By Dale Steinke
When a massive fire left 35 people without homes and leveled the historic Heritage Building in Auburn’s downtown in late December, the community rose up with uncommon generosity and coordination to help those who’d lost everything.
“You never want to see disaster strike any community, but when it does, seeing the way the Auburn community responded was inspiring,” said Jamie Hill, American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for King County. “Auburn is a wonderful example of a community coming together to support one another in times of crisis.”Often the Red Cross asks for support from local businesses and organizations, Hill said. In this case, it was the other way around. “A lot of them were reaching out to us, which made the difference.”
The Auburn Food Bank managed community donations of clothing, furniture and money, then disbursed the funds to help people affected by the fire get temporary housing.
“The overwhelming amount of clothing is beyond belief,” said Debbie Christian, Executive Director. She figured she’d get a box truck worth of clothes, but ended up getting four times that. In addition to clothing, furniture, kitchen and bathroom supplies poured in from the community.
“This has always been a community that’s very giving and takes care of their own,” Christian said.
Many of the people who lost their homes are now staying with friends or family and have picked up enough for their immediate needs. She hopes they will come back as new housing is secured and they have closets to store more clothes and household items. The food bank will be there for them.
Other businesses will be too.
Pam Johnson, owner for nearly nine years of Main Street Thrift, made available up to $30 of clothing to any person who came in with a referral from the Red Cross. “I had the product available. The fire was right down the street and I could help. It’s the right thing to do.”
So far her store has seen about 10 people, but she hopes more will come as they get settled into new homes.
“Those that were affected, feel free to come in whenever. No expiration,” on the Red Cross vouchers, she said. “We’re there to help.”
The City of Auburn has also taken an active role in supporting people affected by the fire. In addition to ongoing response and recovery efforts, they coordinated a furniture donation and distribution site. The city had set two dates to collect furniture, Hill recounted.
The community response, was, well, overwhelming. “On the first day, they filled the space that they had” and cancelled the second collection day.
For organizations and businesses able to support their communities in times of need, Hill suggested that they get connected with disaster response groups before something happens so they’re better prepared to quickly provide needed help. Talk to your local city emergency manager, join a Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD), or a Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD), or whichever groups are in the community that deal with response and recovery.
One business that makes it a point to help out when it can is Café Pacific Catering. The staff cooked up 100 meals for people staying in a Red Cross shelter.
“That’s what you do when you have the ability,” co-owner John Hatcher said. “I can’t imagine losing your home. Not having to think about where your next meal is coming from while having to pick up the pieces is just what you do.”
He was quick to point out that other companies stepped up to provide meals too. Hatcher encouraged others to be ready to give too.
“Don’t hesitate. In the big picture of things, when you put it into perspective, being a helping hand here or there makes a community better.”