by Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference Adventist Community Services Director
OKANOGAN, Wash., July - Yesterday, my husband and I traveled to Okanogan, Malott, Brewster, Pateros, Alta Lake onward to Wenatchee, and through the journey experienced smoke, blowing ash, dangling and down power lines, planes taking aboard water loads and flying their precious liquid cargo to drop on burning scrub and trees, emergency vehicles everywhere, power line trucks and reminders on every side that life was anything but normal.
With a mixture of guilt and "good-type" of pride I wore my golden ACS jacket with the words, "ACS Disaster Team" across my back. Guilt because yes, I've spent hours on phone conferences and phone calls and other administrative support duties, but it pales to the hours spent by ACS DR Administrative team members Larry Mays (NPUC ACS DR Director), and Doug Venn (UCC ACS DR Coordinator) managing the Okanogan Distribution Warehouse and the many gold-shirted volunteers giving tirelessly of time and energy.
How heart-warming too to visit with Adventist members, John and Cindy Cook, in the basement of the Brewster Church as they packed up the remaining clothing items from the first-responder "warehouse" set up by Cindy's mother, Lola Worth, the local ACS Director, Cindy and many other members to serve the survivors the first three days after the disastrous fires.
Clothing it is not -- every location I visited is inundated with clothing.
Specific needs vary day by day, hour by hour, location by location. On the phone conference on the trip over I heard that the Latter Day Saints were sending 100 generators to lend -- so very generous. Shortly after arriving at the donations warehouse in Okanogan, I overheard how many homes in an area were without power. About an hour later a Washington state emergency management officer reported that a huge area had their electricity back. The nature of disasters provides a constantly changing landscape. Unless you are on-site and/or connected with Emergency Operations Center (EOC), it is very difficult to know the changing needs. That is one reason dollar donations are critical.
Those hit by the fires have water, temporary shelter, food and clothing. Many residents whose houses still stand are living long-term however without running water or electricity.
The greatest observed need were volunteers -- volunteers to sort the too-many clothing donated, unload trucks, pack up trucks, check people in, keep lines and lines of tables neatly in order, carry boxes for the elderly . . . and to compassionately listen to stories, to give hugs, and to pray.
In Brewster Cindy also took me to the Fire Relief Center that ACS is now working with. I met two lovely women from the community fatigued beyond measure. "Today we've only had a few volunteers and so many individuals needing assistance. I am so tired -- haven't been with my family for days." An additional need is translators for Spanish to English (which Cindy Cook was going to work on for them).
Also needed are good administrative minds, trained and ready to respond when disaster hits. The Doug Venns and Larry Mays cannot do it alone. I believe Washington Conference will soon send a leadership team over for support. So very thankful.
Let me share an amazing story. With no warning a man living near Brewster (neighbor of an Adventist family) saw a wall of flames barreling down the canyon toward his home. He grabbed his cat, jumped in his car and fled down the only road out. The flames (estimated 85 mph) soon enveloped his car, his car bursting in flames. Leaping from his car he laid face down on the gravel with cat underneath him. Sensing he was not alone, he saw through the smoke deer next to him on the gravel and little birds flitting. After the firestorm passed over, the burned man arduously walked four miles through dense smoke and burning vegetation with cat in shirt before someone found him. Ultimately the man and his cat rode together in the ambulance. He and cat are recovering. In time, somehow he will need to rebuild his little cabin.
Stories like this and many others I heard, made me wonder -- would it not be a wonderful blessing for God's people to donate funds -- not to be sent today or next week, but rather to be thoughtfully shared in a couple of months with people like this neighbor of a Brewster member begins a new life?
If you would like to help our fire relief efforts, please prayerfully consider making a donation using the form below.