The Power of Community News

One year ago, on August 4th, the unthinkable happened. 191 millimetres of rain fell on the City of Burlington. More than 3,500 homes were flooded and the devastating rain caused more than $90 million in damages according to estimates by the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The Mayor of Burlington, whose own home was flooded, contacted the Burlington Community Foundation (BCF) and asked President and CEO Colleen Mulholland to lead the disaster relief efforts. Colleen established a team by first recruiting local business leader Ron Foxcroft to chair the fundraising committee. Colleen asked Xposure PR to assist with media relations and communications support. The BCF Flood Disaster Committee was formed and we all got to work.

Local media were all over it. Having three months’ worth of rain fall on a city in one day is definitely newsworthy. From the outset there was an outpouring of support from friends, neighbours, politicians and businesses. Local volunteers signed up in droves to help. With a disaster of this magnitude the news angles were plentiful and the Burlington Post, CBC, CHCH TV, Burlington Gazette, CHML, Hamilton Spectator and Cogeco covered many.

From a communications perspective we needed to keep the issue newsworthy for the entire 100 days of the fundraising campaign. Competition for news coverage is fierce and we had our work cut out for us finding fresh news angles.

We shared heartwarming stories like when a local 12 year old boy organized a raffle to raise money at his school and tennis club. We worked with flood victims who shared their devastating stories and opened their homes to news cameras and reporters. We highlighted how organizations like the Burlington Rotary Clubs shared fundraising proceeds from Ribfest. Local businesses and organizations made significant donations and we coordinated cheque presentation after cheque presentation. The community newspaper reporters and photographers came out every single time.

The editors, reporters and producers worked with us to keep the story in the news during the rest of the summer and into autumn when the skies were sunny and bright. The local media clearly understood how their work could make a difference in the community by keeping the news front and centre.

After 100 days of hard work and determination over $900,000 was raised and the Ontario Disaster Relief Program agreed to match funds raised by 2-1 for a total of $2.7 million. The BCF Claims Committee then worked to review every claim and by the end of May 2015 relief cheques were shared with those who were underinsured or had no home insurance.

The hard work and support of local media must be applauded. They stayed focused, committed and supportive through the entire process. We couldn’t have raised the funds and the attention without the local media’s help.

Thank you.

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