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Arlene's Cuisine food cart handed out free meals to Colton residents returning home after evacuation

PMG PHOTO: CINDY FAMA - Arlene's Cuisine, a food truck business out of Aurora, visits Colton Thursday Sept. 17 to feed those returning after evacuation due to the Clackamas County wildfires.Arlene's Cuisine food cart from Aurora rolled into Colton on Thursday, Sept. 17, to offer free meals to the community.

Arlene Anderson, owner of the cart, and Kerry Naylor of French Prairie Perennials in Hubbard came up with the idea and made it happen. Even before Colton, they had been busy helping to feed volunteers on the fire line and first responders.

"We came up with the idea because Kerry and I have the same community-minded, big hearts," Anderson said. "Kerry knows a lot of people in the area and has been involved with assisting people in need in the past. So, I reached out to her to let me know if anyone contacted her needing food.

"Early Thursday, Sept. 10, Kerry sent me a screenshot of a (social media) post mentioning that firefighters had been working 60 hours straight with no food. Kerry had told me if I did the cooking, she would help with seed money."

Anderson said she had already posted on her Arlene's Cuisine Facebook page asking if anyone knew of someone who was in need of food, including first responders and their families. Naylor heard from a woman whose son was one of a group of young men fighting fires outside Molalla. Naylor and Anderson provided hot meals for 60 people. Then they reached out to the Aurora Fire Station to see what they might need.

"It was perfect," Anderson said. "They were hosting firefighters from Colton and Molalla when they got off their 24-hour shifts. That night we took our Hawaiian Take Away meal to them and agreed to bring a cold lunch to be taken up to the fire line, and a hot dinner every day until the fire was 80% contained. We were excited and made a meal plan for the week, but the next morning we were told the extra firefighters were going back home. We knew there were still people that needed our meals; so Kerry went back to work figuring out how to reach those in need."

COURTESY PHOTO: ARLENE ANDERSON - One thankful resident receives a hug as Arlene's Cuisine hands out free food in Colton Thursday, Sept. 17.That is when the Colton idea happened. Naylor's sister, Barbara VanOrsow Robey, and her husband had evacuated from Colton and were staying with the Naylors. While reading social media pages, they saw that many Colton residents had lost all their freezer and refrigerator food due to the extended power outage.

"We posted Wednesday night on a Colton (social media) page telling people we were coming," Naylor said. "We had 133 responses in two hours, and Arlene got cooking."

The food cart pulled into the parking lot at Colton High School about 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The menu included beef stew, lasagna, tortilla soup, chicken noodle casserole, barbecue chicken and baked beans, smothered chicken burritos, beef stroganoff with rice and pulled pork sandwiches. Many of the meals were packaged so people could take them home.

"The look (of thanks) on one diner's face when we told her to take as many of the prepared family-style meals as she thought she needed is something I will always remember," Naylor said. "Her power had been out for five days, causing all her freezer and refrigerator items to become spoiled."

"When we first parked the cart, one woman walked up said, 'Thank you, and may I have a hug?'" Anderson said.

The food truck staff included Anderson, her husband Kip Knot, Emerald Fortaleza and Christie Schwary, with Kevin Roberts of Portland and Chessa Fait of Molalla (owner of Baker's Prairie Bakery in Canby) assisting prior to the event in Colton.

"As we were serving, a convoy of U.S. Forest Service trucks followed by a caravan of Bureau of Land Management trucks came down the road," Naylor said. "Everyone there stopped and applauded as the responders drove by probably moving to their next fire."

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