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CRESST is there when you need someone the most

When tragedy strikes, local volunteers make huge difference for those affected
Mary Catherine Williams not only organizes the volunteers for over 40 different local non-profits and executive director of Volunteer Campbell River, she also volunteers her own time with the Campbell River Emergency Support Services Team. Photo by Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror

Mary Catherine Williams doesn’t just talk the talk, she also walks the walk.

As the executive director of Volunteer Campbell River, you might think she’s got her hands too full with funneling volunteers to the over 40 local organizations that Volunteer Campbell River recruits for to have any time to donate herself.

But you’d be wrong.

Williams is also a proud volunteer with the Campbell River Emergency Support Services Team (CRESST).

That came about because Volunteer Campbell River will be the ones responsible for coordinating the volunteer effort during any potential large-scale emergency in the region, whether it’s a wildfire evacuation, earthquake response or other event.

“I decided that in order to do that properly, I should probably understand what’s involved,” Williams says, looking back at being named the organization’s executive director almost three years ago now. “So that brought me into the world of emergency management, in general, and once I started learning about it, I decided I also wanted to volunteer with CRESST.”

CREST, as the name suggests, is the organization that helps people when they are in emergency situations.

When the fire happened in the apartment complex at the corner of Dogwood and 9th Avenue in April 2020, displacing more than 80 residents, the people that helped them find lodging, supplies, fill out paperwork, etc. were from CRESST.

“The best part of CRESST, for me, is that it really is a team,” Williams says. “We all really support each other, learn together – and from each other – and work together whether it’s a smaller emergency like a house fire or a larger one like that big apartment fire or something even bigger.”

But the other thing she loves about the organization is that there’s a spot for anyone who wants to be involved, even if they don’t have much time to help.

“Some people might only do a few hours per month – after the 20 hours or so of initial training that everyone has to do – but a lot of what we do are exercises that you can do if you choose, like the receptions centre exercise we did last year over on Quadra before COVID where we did a fake mass evacuation, that kind of thing.”

And they could certainly use more help. Right now, Williams says, they have about 25 people on their volunteer roster, which is well below where it needs to be should something big go down.

“If you think about, at any one time, maybe a quarter of your volunteers might be available to respond,” she says, “and we need a lot more than that if there’s ever a larger-scale event like a forest fire up Island and we end up taking in everyone from the Port McNeill and Port Hardy area, 25 people isn’t going to cut it. Our ideal would be about 75.”

If this sounds like something you’d like to be involved with, you can go through the web portal and find Volunteer Campbell River in the “I Want To Volunteer” section, then look for Emergency Support Services Volunteer.

Or you could contact SRD Emergency Services Coordinator Sean Koopman by email at or by calling him at 250-830-6702.

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