Otis grange offers wildfire survivors supplies, shoulders to lean on

Wildfires

The Salmon River Grange is offering Echo Mountain Complex Fire survivors essential supplies and a safe space to talk

OTIS, Ore. (KOIN) – Some visitors have called the Salmon River Grange in Otis a “mini Walmart,” but it’s much more than that. The site is serving survivors of the Echo Mountain Complex Fire with everything from food to tents to mental health resources, and it’s all free. 

The grange began collecting donated items to distribute less than a month after the fire. Now, seven months later, they see victims are still hurting and need many things. 

“I had a couple come in last week and they were still living in the back of their vehicle and they’re talking about cooking over a campfire,” said Mary Camizzi, one of the grange managers. “So, I ran to the back, got the camp stove and four little propane things and asked them if they would like it and they just about cried.” 

The inside of the Salmon River Grange Distribution Center looks like a well-organized thrift shop. Wildfire survivors can take what they need for free. Photo taken April 11, 2021 (KOIN)

The inside of the grange looks like a well-organized thrift store. Volunteers keep a list of the homes that burned in the fire and anyone who lost their home can come in and take what they need. 

The grange has racks of clothes, shoes, blankets, and linens. It has tables stacked with dishes and appliances. There are shelves loaded with pet supplies, and there’s a kitchen with shelf-stable and refrigerated items. 

Camizzi said a lot of times people come in and don’t know what they need, but the simple gesture of asking people can go a long way. 

Amy Brown came into the grange a couple of weeks ago. She said in the six months since the fire destroyed her family’s home, she felt like no one had asked her what she needed until she walked through the door of the grange. She was emotional thinking back on the moment. 

“I had never experienced being in a place where there were so many people that were selflessly giving, not just the items but of their time and they listen to us talk. They listen to us rant. They listen to us cry,” Brown said. 

Camizzi said they want to make people feel comfortable and to help relieve them of some of their emotional burdens. 

To help do this, the grange brings in someone from Lincoln County’s Community Outreach & Recovery Education program several times a week. CORE is a local mental health response team that aims to address the impacts of the wildfires and COVID-19 on the community. It helps people find short-term mental health treatment.  

Dorothy Peacock, another manager of the grange, said the woman who comes in from CORE will sit and talk to people as they’re in the building, or will direct them to other local therapy resources. 

Camizzi said she can relate to what people in Otis are going through. Three years ago, she lost her home and barn to a fire in Utah. She said it took about six or seven months after the fire before she realized she was suffering from depression. 

“I feel their pain. I feel their agony,” she said, “but I’m just grateful that they had help here because I was pretty lost for months and months.” 

She said she feels like half the people who walk in really need someone to talk to. 

Many people are still suffering, but Camizzi and Peacock said it’s amazing to see the recovery progress. 

Peacock said at first, people came in needing immediate things like clothes, tents, and ice for their coolers. Now, as some people move into RVs and new homes, they need things like dishes and toasters and wall art. 

What the grange needs most right now are towels, bedding, blankets, dishes, and cat food. Peacock and Camizzi said they have plenty of clothes and don’t need clothing donations. 

The food is coming from Food Share of Lincoln County, Chester’s Market in Lincoln Beach, DeAngelo’s Catering and Events in Portland, and community donations. The grange is receiving funding from a variety of places including Lincoln County and Cascade Relief Team

Marc Brooks, from the Cascade Relief Team, said they started sending donations when they saw the grange was in need. He said the grange serves more than 400 fire survivors each week.

The grange invites people to stop by with donations and Camizzi stresses that donated items do not need to be new. She said they also accept monetary donations. 

“You don’t understand how many people $50 would even help. You can go mad at the dollar store with $50!” Camizzi said. 

After taking home eye drops from the grange a couple weeks earlier, Brown returned Sunday to give back. She and her daughter collected donated medical supplies and Brown volunteered to help work at the grange Sunday afternoon. 

“This was probably the most amazing place that I can think of, you know, after having something so bad happen, I would think it was weird to find it in such a little building, but it’s been great,” she said. 

When asked how long the grange will continue to offer free supplies to survivors, Camizzi and Peacock responded in unison and said, “As long as we have to.” 

Dorothy Peacock, left, laughs at something Mary Camizzi says. The two women help manage the Salmon River Grange Distribution Center in Otis, Oregon. Photo taken April 11, 2021 (KOIN)

“I’m overwhelmed at times to see some of the stuff that comes in. They give from their heart as much as we give from ours to help the survivors,” Peacock said.

The two women said it’s sometimes thankless work, but when people do express their gratitude, it means the world to them. They said they’ll be there for the rest of the year and then some if they’re needed. 

The Salmon River Grange is open seven days a week from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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