This past September, in the midst of the devastating wildfires, Noble Works wanted to find a way to support fire victims and first responders. As dark skies and smoke surrounded Noble Works, the team felt fear in the unknown of what was to come. One thing was clear in the darkness, as homes and businesses burned, people were going to need help. There was going to be people facing health issues, housing displacement, and financial strain on the communities being affected. Noble wanted to find a way to assist with services they specialized in and thought it would be a great idea to create a t-shirt honoring firefighters who were on the frontlines fighting the fires, and host a fundraiser with all proceeds going towards fire victims. The fundraiser ran from September tenth until the end of the month. Within the three weeks, $1,500 was raised. Aside from the fundraiser, Noble Works was also able to help our affected communities by donating signage to Marion and Linn County fairgrounds in order to direct volunteers and fire victims to donation locations and other processes.
“It was really nice to see all the support not only from our Noble community but extended communities as well, participate in the fundraiser. Even after the fundraiser closed, there were still people reaching out wanting to buy shirts and contribute to the fundraiser,” explains Brittany Figueroa, 23, Noble Lead Graphic Designer.
In search of an organization to donate to and reach out to wildfire fairground organizers, Noble was directed to donate the raised funds to United Way Mid-Willamette Valley (UW MWV). Noble was interested in learning more about UW MWV and how funds were being used to be able to share with the Noble Works community. Elizabeth Schrader, 53, Chief Development Officer for the UW MWV was able to spare some time from her busy schedule to share some insight on all the things UW MWV has been working on recently. There are United Ways (UWs) all over the nation and even globally. Nationally, UWs were formed to provide fundraise aid for non-profit service providers. They’re also known for creating literacy programs for third graders and helping with communities improve their financial health.
Within the last three years,UW MWV has broken away from the national model and has really honed in on community impact projects. Some of their first projects were creating 24 hour shelters for homeless teens and mobile basic hygiene stations to provide these needs at different homeless shelters. UW’s in a state are usually separated by the counties they serve.
“This year with the wildfire effort, there will be more collaborative work between UW’s because the wildfires affected so many different counties. The moment that UW MWV got news that danger from the wildfires was moving quickly, I decided to immediately start an online fundraising effort and an immediate call to action to community members to start donating items,” Schrader discloses.
“The response was completely overwhelming, people were really motivated, and felt inspired and rewarded to give whatever they could. We had people cleaning out their gardens and giving us fresh tomatoes and zucchini and stuff like that…we didn’t ask for those things but it was literally anything they had to give they wanted to bring to us.”
There was such an outpour of support that quickly it became very prevalent that the UW center locations weren’t going to have enough space for all the donations they had been receiving. The next type of donation that was being offered was actual spaces such as mobile storage unit containers, three of them which were filled immediately with item donations. At the time of evacuees were being sent to the state/county fairgrounds, a community member offered an empty 18,000 square foot warehouse space that was located across the Oregon State fairgrounds for more things to be stored which was eventually filled up as well. Schrader even asked the Oregon State fairgrounds if they could occupy the 4-H, 20,000 square foot, building that was also filled up quickly. Following that, another 33,000 square foot warehouse was donated to be used during the crisis which was almost filled up completely as well.
“There were amazing responses from communities, an overwhelming amount of generosity. Companies from all over the country were calling wanting to donate specific items for wildfire relief such as Amazon, Columbia, Carhartt and Danner.”
“We wanted to make sure that all the resources we were collecting were going straight to the evacuees. That was something that was extremely important to the donors. I can’t tell you how many times we had people drop things off and would say ‘I want this to go to the wildfire victims. So we needed to find a way to access those individuals, which was a little difficult, make sure they were supported and donations were reserved for them.”
“The communities themselves started creating these hubs, supply areas, that families and individuals could go to and get a litany of items such as tents, tarps, electric cords, mattresses, sleeping bags, flashlights, propane tanks, stoves, pots and pans, lawn chairs, clothing, food items, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, towels, deodorant, contact lens solution, chapstick, visine, masks. Many escaped with their pet but weren’t able to bring anything, so pet food, litter boxes, treats, beds, leashes were provided. Also baby items: formula, baby food, diapers, baby clothing, cribs, pack and plays, car seats, and strollers. Items for the senior population: canes, walkers, crutches, wheelchairs were given out.”
“It all started with just trying to get basic items but then people started giving so much more. It actually worked out really well because we got some RVs donated so we were able to outfit them and families were able to just walk right in.”
“Moving forward, there’s still so much that hasn’t been addressed. There are infrastructure problems in the canyon, electricity service is sporadic. They’re still determining the damage done to all those things, not just the electricity but the water, how the water will be affected by the ash, making sure that all of the ash won’t get into our water system. The clean up system, with just the ash alone. As most of the profoundly affected communities will start to experience when the rains come, there’s no underbrush to make sure they don’t have an erosion issue. All of a sudden we don’t have huge swabs of dirt and debris. I think on our first big heavy rain we’re going to see Santiam look a total different way.”
There’s so much yet that needs to happen and it’s not a simple issue to tackle. The climate of November, December, January in Oregon puts limitations on how quick these processes can start and get finished.
“It’s not just about giving these families a trailer home, they still need power, water and other things to survive the winter because rebuilding isn’t going to happen until all the infrastructure gets taken care of and that’s not going to happen right away. So next steps are still unknown”
When asked, what’s a memory she would hold twenty years from now she responded, “The memories I will hold both good and bad, is the little boy who came in and gave the contents of his piggy bank that had his tooth fairy money in it. It was so heartbreaking at the same time of it being adorable but I will also hold the stories and the weight that some of the victims came to the resource hub and had this shell shocked look at the reality of losing their homes and almost everything. They couldn’t articulate themselves and us having to talk them into taking resources that were meant for them.”
Schrader encourages communities to stay up to date with UW MWV social media accounts because they are trying to be very targeted in what they’re asking the general public for and are posting that on social media as they hear those things. Needs change day by day, “today was Coleman grills and next up will probably be heavy winter clothes that people can wear as they clean their properties, and in the further future people are going to need things to put their houses back together, so there’s a lot to come” describes Schrader. You can stay up to date with UW MWV on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook & Instagram: @unitedwaymwv