A bright spot has emerged at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem amid devastation caused by the Santiam Canyon fires.
The evacuation center staged at the fairgrounds has been “overwhelmed” with volunteers – to the point where Marion County officials have turned away additional aid, said Lisa Trauernicht, senior policy analyst for the Marion County Board of Commissioners.
Within the past 48 hours, dozens of organizations and individuals have donated essential items to help the evacuees from the wildfires including canned and baked goods, fresh vegetables, paper towels, diapers, blankets, toys, toothpaste — and a rather large pile of dog food.
“Part of our community has been really hurt in the last few days with the fires — and the rest of the community is reaching out,” Trauernicht said. “It’s amazing how this community comes together.”
Trauernicht called the support from volunteers and donors a “grassroots” effort that quickly spread via social media platforms such as Facebook. Volunteers were not needed as of Wednesday afternoon, but county officials later established a sign-up to organize volunteer schedules for Thursday.
How to help
Due to the overwhelming response from the community, officials from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office are asking residents to refrain from dropping off donations at the state fairgrounds.
Here is a list of where to donate money and goods and what volunteering opportunities are available in the area to help wildfire victims:
United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is accepting items that can be dropped off at 455 Biller Avenue NE between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. As of Thursday morning, United Way is in need of the following:
- Cleaning supplies
- Sleeping bags
- Air mattresses
- Travel shampoos, lotion, soaps
- Prepackaged food items (granola bars, etc)
Monetary donations can be made through the Red Cross at redcross.org.
United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley has set up a Mid-Valley Wildfire Relief Fund.
To donate time as a volunteer Marion County, check back the county’s volunteer sign-ups online. Opportunities will also be posted on Marion County’s and the sheriff’s office websites.
The American Red Cross has three Oregon-based chapters: Central and Eastern Oregon Chapter, Southwest Oregon Chapter and Northwest Oregon Chapter. Those who are interested in volunteering should visit redcross.org/volunteer for more information.
There are also six American Red Cross blood banks throughout Oregon accepting donations.
Save the horses!: Volunteers across Oregon evacuate dozens of horses under wildfire threat
Road closures: Wildfires in Oregon spark road closures statewide. Here is a running list.
Donate to the KGW Northwest Response Fund
The American Red Cross has teamed up with KGW and KING-TV in Seattle to form the Northwest Response Fund, dedicated to helping those affected by the wildfires raging in Oregon and Washington.
Donations will go toward 2020 wildfire relief wherever it is needed. Nearly $20,000 has been raised as of Wednesday morning.
Contribute to Keep Oregon Green
Keep Oregon Green is an association dedicated to wildfire education and awareness.
Donations to Keep Oregon Green will go toward awareness, education and action — a $1,500 contribution becomes $3,000 worth of outreach, the organization said.
One hundred percent of the money donated to Keep Oregon Green goes directly to educating the public; state dollars take care of operating costs.
Fire map: Oregon fire map traces current fires burning across state, nearby states in real-time
West Salem resident Suzanne Huffman, 68, said she saw a Facebook post calling for volunteers at the fairgrounds – and showed up around noon Wednesday.
“When there are people in need and there’s something I can do, I step up and do it,” Huffman said.
She spent her afternoon shift in the Jackman-Long building alongside bustling volunteers, donning yellow reflective vests, serving lunch catered by Olive Garden, checking in on evacuees and sorting a steady influx of donations.
A nurse from Marion County Health and Human Services screened individuals and checked temperatures. Huffman said walked around the pavilion distributing masks and encouraging guests to wear them.
Volunteers wrote a list of items requested by evacuees and posted it to social media such as Band-Aids, Ziplock bags, pillows and coloring books.
“And then, within the hour, those things would magically appear,” Huffman said. “It’s been really touching seeing the community come out like this.”
Salem resident Betty Buholts, 60, also learned of the call for helpers on Facebook through two friends and former Nordstrom coworkers. Buholts was assigned to organize the pet food section, which included a sizable stack of dog food.
“I have two puppies at home,” she said. “I can’t imagine something happening to them and being uprooted without the resources to take care of them. They mean the world to me. I would want someone to help me.”
Huffman said the outpouring of help and donations is “wonderful” amid a divisive atmosphere and unrest in Salem.
“For the most part, we’ve seen the community come together and I’m idealistic enough to hope that maybe we’ll continue to try to work together … Maybe the empathy that we’re seeing here will extend,” she said.
Virginia Barreda is the breaking news and public safety reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-399-6657 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @vbarreda2.
Daniella Medina is a digital producer for the USA TODAY Network. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @danimedinanews.