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As one emergency transitions to another, Woodburn's Super 8 Hotel becomes a Red Cross center housing Santiam Canyon evacuees

COURTESY OF ERIC SWENSON - Charlie Hintz, manager of Woodburn's Ray of Hope Thrift Store, and Red Cross coordinator Marilyn Agenbroad, discuss getting supplies to wildfire evacuees staying at Woodburn Super 8 Hotel Saturday. Hintz provided clothing vouchers and board games.A collaborative effort in Woodburn provided a sliver of light to hundreds of people enduring displacement shock after being evacuated from their homes last week.

As wildfire evacuees were mounting up at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, the regional Red Cross found its resources stretched but it's resolve unfazed. Woodburn nonprofits, Love INC and Ray of Hope, met with the Chamber of Commerce and Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson to investigate ways to help.

Ultimately, working with Marion County Emergency Management, Woodburn Super 8 Hotel became an evacuation shelter for many displaced residents. The county had been operating the hotel for use as a COVID-19 isolation and quarantine center, where it had successfully isolated 13 people over the first two months of operation. According to the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce, no COVID patients remained by the time displaced evacuees began using the hotel as a shelter.

"Our town wants to do something to help, and we felt this would be a good way to do it," Chamber Executive Director John Zobrist said. "From what we learned, the rooms had been cleaned up and it was prepared to switch over to the Red Cross."

Among the organizers who helped the Red Cross set up at the hotel and acquire necessities for evacuees is Kathleen Gamble of Santiam Outreach Community Center in Mill City. A Gates resident, Gamble, her two teenage daughters and mother were all displaced by the Beachie wildfire that destroyed much of the canyon.

"There was a whole group of people -- Love INC, Ray of Hope, the Red Cross, Mayor Eric Swenson, John Zobrist from the Chamber of Commerce – they have all been such instrumental in making sure that everyone is taking care of," Gamble said. "Today we have people that will be able to do their laundry. Curt Jones with Love INC coordinated with local laundry mats."COURTESY OF ERIC SWENSON - Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, center left, and Woodburn Chamber of Commerce Director John Zobrist, center right, work with local Red Cross coordinator Marilyn Agenbroad, and other organizers to transition Woodburn Super 8 Hotel into a center for refugees displaced by Oregons spate of wildfires.

Gamble said the shock from the quick displacement is slowly transforming into resolve. She had been working tirelessly, reaching out to the Santiam Canyon evacuees at the state fairgrounds and the hotel. She discovered displaced people at the Super 8 from other locales as well: Silverton, Scotts Mills, Mount Angel and even someone who had evacuated from Lincoln City.

"The mayor of Woodburn has been so welcoming and very very kind," Gamble said. "He wrote a welcoming letter, a sympathy letter about how sorry he was that this had happened, and we distributed it to all of the evacuees at the hotel."

Zobrist said there were 221 evacuees at the Super 8 Saturday, including 5 infants.

"The Red Cross set them up there...the Red Cross is an amazing organization, providing shelter and food and what basic necessities can," Zobrist said. "We as a community felt we could help provide some of the little things that Red Cross isn't set up to do. Simple things like dropping off board games; Love INC is doing laundry; at the chamber we're using our web page to reach out to people who want to assist and donate. This is a way to help our neighbors that have been displaced."

Zobrist said a variety of necessities arise, like the need for a cat box and litter and a hose and shovel for pet owners to clean up wastes. Medical supplies are another frequent necessity.

"We only had 10 minutes to get out," Gamble said. "So there are a lot of things you don't think about during an emergency evacuation."

Swenson said a downtown restaurant assembled 220 breakfast burritos Saturday morning, and the Woodburn School District is providing lunches for school-age children.

"I'm not sure how many shelters there are, but this is an overflow shelter from the state fairgrounds," Swenson said. "The residents here are mostly from the Gates and Mill City area. All 81 rooms are full."

The mayor said he met victims are of all ages and walks. He spoke with someone who lost their trailer in the fire and didn't have insurance. He spoke with a woman in her 80s who has bone cancer. She had oxygen and filters in her home, all left behind.

"There is even a displaced hospice nurse who was visiting people on hospice care who had to be evacuated. She's out here tracking down her hospice patients," Swenson said.COURTESY OF ERIC SWENSON - Love INC Director Curt Jones, left, and Kathleen Gamble from Santiam Outreach Community Center, right, discuss options with an woman with special medical needs. The woman had been evacuated from Santiam Canyon due to the Beachie wildfire and is staying at Woodburn's Super 8 Hotel, which had been converted into a Red Cross center.

Zobrist said evacuees whose homes remained intact will hopefully be allowed to return soon. Others may not be so fortunte.

"So far, we don't really know. We'll see. Some of these people might be there for awhile; the ones who lost everything," Zobrist said. "It's vida loca...I'm telling you."

Gamble said Santiam Canyon residents are resilient and will ultimately turn the hardship into a positive.

"As soon as we get the okay, we are going to open up the community center (in Mill City) and be there for people," she said. "The canyon is like the Phoenix; we're going to rise up out of the ashes, just like the Phoenix...We're going to be okay. We'll stick together and get through this."


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