‘Beauty from ashes’: Group aims to build 250 sheds for wildfire survivors

Special Reports

Organizers say a shed might not seem like much, but to wildfire survivors, it's a safe haven.

LYONS, Ore. (KOIN) — More than 40 volunteers gathered at the Mehama Community Center Saturday morning and quickly got to work sawing lumber, stapling siding, and assembling sheds to give to wildfire survivors in the Santiam Canyon. 

The volunteers and several supporting contracting companies are on a mission to build 250 sheds in the coming months. 

The project started with Pastor Troy Gulstrom from Mehama Community Church. His church initially planned to build 10 sheds, but after receiving more and more requests, Gulstrom soon realized this project was much larger than he initially envisioned. 

He contacted Nick Harville, head of the Santiam Rebuild Coalition, and asked for help. 

Harville sent a note about the project to contracting companies he trusted and Juli Foscoli, whose family owns South Town Glass in Salem, jumped at the opportunity.  

“Some of these people lost everything. They lost all their memories. They lost family members, you know? Like, I can build them a shed. That’s one thing that I can do,” Foscoli said, explaining why she decided to take on the huge project. 

Foscoli, who’s also a member of the Salem chapter of National Association of Women in Construction, said she immediately invited the group to join the project. She also contacted Juan Coronel from Free Agent PDX, who recruited more businesses from the Oregon Columbia chapter of the Associated General Contractors

From left to right, Julie Davis, Juli Foscoli, and Lexie Harvey, all members of the Salem chapter of National Association of Women in Construction, pose for a photo. The three women helped build sheds for wildfire survivors in the Santiam Canyon on March 6, 2021. (KOIN)

Foscoli said volunteers, contractors, and donations have been coming out of the woodwork. She believes there are now more than 10 companies committed to the project. 

The first shed build day took place at Foscoli’s South Town Glass shop in Salem in early February. The group worked for more than 12 hours to build two sheds. 

Foscoli said she felt great about that accomplishment, but once the ball was rolling – it couldn’t be stopped. 

“Everybody started contacting me afterwards and they’re like ‘what are we doing now? When are we building the next sheds? … We want to build more sheds.’ They need 250, we’ve only done two,” she said. 

So, beginning in March, Foscoli is committing to organizing two build days each month until they reach their goal of constructing 250 sheds. They decided to move their build site to the Mehama Community Center in Lyons, where they’ll have space for more volunteers. 

The sheds are donated to wildfire survivors who lost their homes and are living in their properties on RVs. According to Foscoli, people plan to use the sheds to store things like canned foods, livestock materials, and tools.  

Volunteers stand in front of a nearly fully assembled shed before it was donated to a wildfire survivor on March 6, 2021. Photo courtesy Juan Coronel

Foscoli said each shed costs about $1,400. So far, she’s worked with local businesses who have sold her building materials at a reduced price and she’s received several donations, many of which Foscoli attributes to Bill Smith’s efforts. 

Smith works for Parker, Smith & Feek, a brokerage firm in Washington with a Portland office. He said he reached out to his surety partners at Liberty Mutual Insurance, Travelers Insurance, and other big companies to see if they’d be interested in donating to the shed build project and many of them said yes. 

“With COVID right now, a lot of the people are not going out and seeing clients. They’re not going out and entertaining. So, they have budgets that are still there to utilize,” Smith explained. 

Bill Smith, right, looks over plans for a shed. He participated in building sheds for wildfire survivors at the Mehama Community Center on March 6, 2021. (KOIN)

Despite these useful donations, Smith admitted the project will need more funding at some point. And they’re asking people for donations.

Organizers are also welcoming as many volunteers as they can get. 

As difficult as it is seeing the devastation in his community, Pastor Gulstrom said the shed build project has been a bright spot for him. He said everyone who’s received a shed so far has been extremely appreciative. 

“I think the expression is beauty from ashes and that’s what we’re seeing and this project is a piece of that beauty,” he said. 

Anyone who’d like to volunteer or donate, should contact Juli Foscoli at juli@southtownglass.com or Nick Harville at nharvill@sedcor.com. Gulstrom said people can also email santiamsheds@gmail.com.   

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