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Students boost sandbagging efforts as river levels rise
John Kitchen spent an hour and a half piling a single layer of sandbags around his home last Thursday.
The property sits on the Red River in St. Germain, a community just south of the Perimeter Highway in the civic ward of St. Vital.
That hour-and-a-half time frame was precisely why the arrival of 50 Glenlawn Collegiate students streaming off a yellow school bus — boots on, and ready to help — was a sight for sore eyes.
"Obviously, it’s great," Kitchen said. "The kids have twice the energy of everyone else, so it goes quick like crazy."
He added the students from the St. Vital high school were able to lay a full ring of sandbags around the home in just 15 minutes.
As they waited for more sandbags to arrive, the student volunteers chatted about why they were lending a hand.
"These guys are obviously in trouble," said 16-year-old Brendan Murphy, indicating the rising river levels encroaching on the property.
Murphy said he lives in Island Lakes — meaning his family doesn’t have to deal with the yearly flooding.
But he said he understands how important the help is for Kitchen and his family.
"If I was (living) here, I’d definitely want 50 kids to come help me out."
Fellow student Mikayla Zacharias said her family also doesn’t have to fear flooding.
But the 15-year-old said she can sympathize with those who have to deal with the stressful spring ritual.
"I felt kind of bad. I didn’t want the flood to ruin their house," she said of the Kitchen property.
Zacharias added this is the first time she’s volunteered to help with sandbagging, and said she thinks it’s an important activity for the whole community to become involved with.
"If we don’t help, then nothing will get done."
Glenlawn is not the only Louis Riel School Division helping in the flood fight.
As the Glenlawn kids helped out in St. Germain, students from Dakota Collegiate were building sandbag dikes in St. Norbert.
Supt. Terry Borys said he expects between 1,000 and 1,500 students in total will give their time in the coming days to help with sandbagging.
Borys added he knows many students don’t encounter flooding at their own homes, and may not really understand the seriousness of the issue — which is part of why volunteering is so important.
"Here we are helping out, and realizing it’s a real danger," he said, adding another important aspect is to feel a sense of citizenship. "It’s important that we give back the community."
Borys was a high school principal during the 1997 Flood of the Century, and said the student effort to help sandbag properties was memorable.
"The students came back exhausted, but they can back with a real sense of having contributed," he recalled.
As for Kitchen, this is his first year living on the riverfront property.
The house belonged to his brother before him, and Kitchen said he witnessed how bad the flooding was in 2009.
He and his wife are "nervous for sure, but we just try to keep on top of it."
City officials say 560 low-lying properties along the Red and Assiniboine rivers are at risk of being flooded and will need to have sandbag dikes built in the coming weeks.
Those who want to volunteer with the sandbagging efforts across the city should call 311 to express their interest and indicate their availability.
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