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Creamery helps worker's Samoan family

When a tsunami slammed into American Samoa Sept. 29, Poasa Galo, an island native who now lives in Central Point, was at work making cheese at Rogue Creamery.

"It was terrible for Samoa," Galo said of the devastation he and his family saw on television.

Even worse, though, was his inability to reach his mother, brother and two sisters in the village where he grew up.

"I was worried," he said.

Head cheesemaker Craig Nelson sprang into action, tapping expertise he gained during a 21-year Army career to contact the Red Cross, the State Department and finally American Samoa's Rep. Eni Faleomavaega to check on Galo's family.

While Galo was relieved to talk to his mother on a phone call facilitated by the congressman, she had grim news. His 16-year-old sister Faatasiga had been killed and the family home destroyed.

Again, Galo's co-workers responded.

The creamery has organized a fundraiser in which proceeds from cheese sales will be donated to Galo and his family. The sales will be today at the creamery's Central Point shop at 311 N. Front St. and the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Ashland at 1420 E. Main St. and at a farmers market at Portland State University on Wednesday.

Creamery owners David Gremmels and Cary Bryant also bought Galo plane tickets to American Samoa next month. He will travel to see his family and take the money raised this week to help them rebuild in the village of Lano where he and his 10 siblings grew up.

"The house is gone," Galo said. "I don't know where they are living."

Communication to the island has remained fairly difficult, despite relief efforts. President Obama declared an emergency, clearing the way for federal funding to assist the island, which is a U.S. territory. The U.S. Department of Labor has provided an emergency grant of $24.8 million to help clean-up and recovery efforts.

The death toll is estimated at 34 in American Samoa, with 143 confirmed dead in the nation of Samoa to the west and another nine people dead in Tonga.

"Everyone wanted to do a little thing to help," said Francis Plowman, Rogue Creamery's marketing manager.

Nelson said Galo is "a super hard worker," whom he holds up as an example to new employees.

Galo moved to Central Point in 1999 to work and live near one of his sisters, who later moved to Portland. Most of his four sisters and six brothers had come to the mainland United States. He started working at Rogue Creamery in September 2005.

"He is an incredible worker who really sets the tone for the whole crew," Plowman said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Poasa Galo's sister was killed and his family left homeless in the tsunami that leveled parts of American Samoa earlier this year. Rogue Creamery is holding fundraising sales for its employee's family today in Central Point and Ashland. - Bob Pennell