Thanksgiving for 80
As soon as stories began to circulate about the destruction caused by this year's Oregon wildfires, a Woodburn-area couple began looking for ways to help displaced victims, many of whom were lodged at the local Super 8 Hotel.
But their initial efforts were scotched by one circumstance or another. So, they set their sights on Thanksgiving.
That's when an unexpected partner joined their quest, and as a result scores of displaced Santiam Canyon residents will receive a full Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings from Shari's Restaurant in Woodburn.
"My wife, Rebecca, was wanting to do something to help the fire victims staying in the area," local Realtor Rick Siewert explained. "We were frustrated by (red tape) as we were trying to organize food drives, but nothing panned out. That's when we thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could provide a Thanksgiving dinner to the folks who were still homeless from the fires?'"
Rebecca Siewert began coordinating with a Santiam Canyon pastor, who in turn introduced her to a coordinator from Santiam Community Outreach Center, Kathleen Gamble — who just happened to have been displaced from her Gates home by the Beachie Creek fire.
Meanwhile, Rick coordinated with a motorcycle group he rides with, the Salem chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association. Within that circle he discovered a fair number of riders willing to pitch into the cause.
But the true kicker came when he approached Shari's Restaurant in Woodburn to see about purchasing the meals. The restaurant manager mused: "Let's see if the restaurant can help out."
It turned out it could, to the tune of a dollar-for-dollar matching donation. That was music to the ears of many who have had little to smile about this fall.
"I think that's absolutely wonderful," Kathleen said. "When Rebecca told me they were doing this, I thought it was very giving and charitable, especially since we live 60 miles away — they are thinking about us?
"They were already thinking ahead about this, and some other ideas, back in October. And then Shari's in-kind donations — we weren't expecting that. It was pretty amazing."
Kathleen and her family are among those who have been staying at the Super 8 since early September, a brood of four along with two dogs.
"We had hoped to go home, but there was just too much damage to our home — it ended up being a total loss," she said.
She still drives up to the canyon daily, working to get resources to everyone who needs it through her work. She said hundreds of residents are still displaced, some at the local Super 8 but many more living in various motels or temporary lodging in Salem, Albany and Corvallis.
"We will make sure those gift cards get to the people who really need them ... There are most definitely hundreds who remain displaced," she said.
Rick said the dinner idea just took off, and folks just reached into their pockets and ponied up money. With the Shari's partnership, they will be able to provide around 80 meals.
But Rick also hopes that beyond the dinner, the gesture and ensuing delight will linger as a glimmer of optimism for a group of people who were abruptly driven from their livelihoods barely a few short months earlier.
"We are just a group of bikers who dipped into their pockets and came up with $800. Those folks who were burned out of their homes have been living on food bank (rations) and Styrofoam containers. We thought to be able to go to a sit-down dinner could be a real blessing," Rick said.
"One of the things about disasters is there is a whole lot of help at first, and then it kind of fades away," he reflected. "These people who were burned out of their houses, everything they have is gone. Let's not forget them."
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