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Red Deer barbecue brings together some NWT wildfires evacuees

Some people who fled the NWT wildfires were treated to a free barbecue at the Red Deer Resort and Casino last week.
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Red Deer Resort and Casino outlets manager Deborah Strawberry, operations manager Adrian Strawberry and Noelle Zenati, senior manager of sales and drink, hosted a barbecue for NWT evacuees last week. The event was intended to bring additional comfort while the Northern visitors are away from home under difficult circumstances. Kaicheng Xin/NNSL photo

Some people who fled the NWT wildfires were treated to a free barbecue at the Red Deer Resort and Casino last week.

“We kind of were sitting around like, what could we do to help make them feel a bit better,” said Deborah Strawberry, the resort’s outlets manager.

The barbecue, where many hamburgers and salads were dished out, was organized in appreciation of the displaced Northerners. Zenati described the event as “amazing.”

The hotel was accommodating in excess of 120 people in more than 70 rooms as of Aug. 23. Evacuees are given vouchers by the City of Red Deer, which they present at the front desk.

“They just give the voucher, we assign them the room. Here is the key, have a nice stay,” Zenati said of the simplicity of the arrangement.

Earlier this year, the resort collaborated with multiple entities to provide discounted room rates for Hay River evacuees.

“I connected with the City of Red Deer, connected with the Red Cross and connected with Catholic Social Services because I know they deal with this disaster situation,” said Noelle Zenati, the resort’s senior manager of sales and drink. “I told them we are available. I will give you a discounted rate only for the evacuees and we dropped our rate between 40-50 per cent off, just to have them here with us to make them feel comfortable and to welcome them with positivity, as much as we can.”

The hotel has a good relationship with the municipality and will bill them for the evacuees’ stay at a later date, according to Zenati.

She said that hotel staff came together quickly to prepare for the sudden influx of NWT evacuees. Some staff put in extra hours to ensure rooms were clean and ready.

Adrian Strawberry, the resort’s operations manager, hails from O’Chiese First Nation, located northwest of Red Deer. That community was forced to flee the Alberta wildfires a few months ago.

He was taken aback at how suddenly everything happened over such a short span for NWT residents, but he said he’s hopeful that everything will work out well for all those involved.

“It’s a shock. I didn’t really think there would be an evacuation, especially Yellowknife,” he said. “I never really thought it would get so drastic as it did and I’m just hoping and pray everybody’s okay.”