Trochu: A fire with no injuries, a community deeply wounded

Dominic and Mary Grace Gelua worked Trochu’s Sunterra pork processing plant. They joined more than 300 community members at the community hall, July 7 for a fundraiser for the more than 100 laid-off employees. ECA Review/D. Nadeau
Written by ECA Review

A well-attended supper July 7 at the Trochu community hall proved to be the biggest fundraising effort to date in an attempt to assist the more than 100 laid off employees of the now-closed Sunterra meat processing plant.

Sunterra was Trochu’s leading employer.

The June 17 fire was discovered in the late afternoon and the contract cleaners in the facility safely exited. When asked about laid-off employees, Sunterra, with head office in Acme, said “about 115 unionized workers were laid off according to the collective agreement that governs their employment. Approximately 25 non-union workers have not been laid off at this time.”

The idea of Sunday’s supper was sparked by two focused Trochu couples—Jim and Mary-Glenn Guard and Bob and Audrey Nelson—who quickly realized such a massive layoff called for strong community support. Funds collected prior to the July 7 dinner came to $4,500; money raised at the dinner (tickets and Relief Fund donations) came to over $12,000.

Two previous community-based fundraising efforts generated nearly $6,000. Laid-off employees and their families were invited to Sunday’s meal at no cost.

More than 300 attended Sunday’s ham and beef supper; Sunterra donated the meat, three area colonies contributed food, and “more than enough” volunteers—laid-off plant workers included—helped prepare the hall and meal. Of those volunteers, 48 came from the town’s vibrant Pilipino community, 23 of whom were laid-off employees.

In his remarks at the July 7 supper, Mayor Barry Kletke praised the how-can-we-help spirit that swept the town of 1,000, pointing out that the plant’s closure can have widespread consequences. They could include the food bank, school attendance, area businesses, and staffing at a long-term care facility.

“Help as much, as often, and however you can,” the mayor said. “Not everyone has a vehicle, so maybe you could drive someone to a job interview or, lend a vehicle. The food bank needs donations and you can donate to the Relief Fund at the town office. We need to do all we can to support our Pilipino friends. They are hard workers and wonderful people.”

Trochu CAO Carl Peterson said the Town of Trochu will collect money and maintain a leger for the Relief Fund. Donations are tax deductible. The board of the Kneehill Fil-Can Bayanihan Society will determine fund distribution.

MP Damien Kurek issued a statement. “We can assist with EI, immigration, or other federal programs. We will help navigate what is often a very confusing system.

Sunterra Q & A

How is Sunterra supporting/assisting laid off employees?
We talked with other pork companies to connect them with our workers, and they indicate they have openings.

What is the anticipated (best-guess) timeframe for the shutdown?
Our insurance company indicates it will be more than nine or 10 months. We won’t know until they do a full review, which may take another six to eight weeks.

Was the fire confined to the building’s interior?
There was extensive damage inside and to the roof.

What caused the fire and who discovered it?
The cause is unknown and is not being investigated as suspicious. One of those who clean the facility noticed smoke and called 911.

Does Sunterra have a damage estimate?
Our insurance is working on estimates. It is too early in the process to know the cost of the damage caused by the fire.

What arrangements, suggestions, or compensation are being considered for pig producers who had anticipated delivering to the plant?
We have good relationships with producers; they were able to redirect their pigs to other processing companies.

Trochu volunteer co-ordinator Bob Nelson said he has received calls from as far away as Lethbridge and Edmonton, inquiring about the Trochu situation, with regard to possible assistance.

When asked about next steps in their vision to help, co-ordinator Audrey Nelson said, “We will continue to support laid-off employees until the plant re-opens.”

David Nadeau
ECA Review

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