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Advocate for her town

Whether she's rallying volunteers to beautify the downtown, running bingo games for local seniors or helping to organize a "cash mob" for a local business, lifelong Central Point resident Debbie Saxbury is focused on making her community a better place to live.

Saxbury is the coordinator of a community Facebook page dubbed "Central Point Oregon — What's Happening Around Town." She spends countless hours each week keeping residents up to speed on city news, local events and community issues.

Those who know her say Saxbury is as much a part of Central Point as the historical grain elevator or the equine statue atop the old saddle shop.

A longtime city-parks advocate, she's worked for decades in various capacities to promote historical preservation, holiday events and city projects.

Daughter of former mayor Dick Saxbury, the 57-year-old says she learned to help others at an early age at her parents' downtown clothing and furniture stores, where they offered everything from advice or a helping hand to cash loans for high-schoolers to attend a weekend dance.

"I remember a family's house burned down, and they had lots of kids, so my dad loaded up some bunk beds we had at our store and took them over," Saxbury says. "Dad couldn't even afford it at the time, but he couldn't bear seeing the kids without beds."

Following in her parents' footsteps, Saxbury started young.

"When I was in junior high, I remember rounding up some friends, skipping school and grabbing our wagons. We went door to door on a food drive during the holidays," she says.

When her son started kindergarten, she befriended a single father, offering advice and helping with school clothes over the years, eventually finding donations to fix up the family's old double-wide.

As an adult, Saxbury helped revive a languishing Fourth of July parade for the local Chamber of Commerce, rounded up volunteers to plant flowers downtown and has coordinated Crater High School class reunions.

After a homeless man was found frozen to death in December 2009, covered with only a thin blanket along the railroad tracks in Medford, Saxbury ventured into another kind of community advocacy.

"I was so upset to see a homeless man had died from exposure, from having to sleep outside in the freezing cold," she says.

Using her community ties and networking skills, Saxbury posed the idea of a warming station to community leaders and began collecting camping supplies for the homeless.

To her delight, Calvary Temple opened the city's first warming station, providing meals and a warm place to escape freezing temperatures.

A former warming-station client who later found a job and a home, Medford resident John Lopes says Saxbury's example prompted him to return to the warming station several days each week "to give something back."

"If more people were like Debbie, this world would be a much different place," Lopes says.

With the warming station well-staffed, Saxbury's current focus is on raising awareness about homelessness and helping those in need access area resources for housing and jobs.

Weekly posts on her Facebook page range from a request to help a homeless man cover a vet bill and soliciting pizza and dry socks for the warming station to hosting a "cash mob" in support of Bobbio's Pizza, a downtown business.

Central Point resident Patricia Alvarez says Saxbury "is always doing something for Central Point. She's the one who helped get that statue in front of PremierWest Bank, she started an adopt-a-neighborhood cleanup, started a walking group ... I'm sure she does a ton that we never even hear about."

Matt Samitore, city of Central Point parks and public works director, calls Saxbury "a local treasure."

"It's very seldom that you find someone willing to donate that much of their time to help their community get better," Samitore says. "Debbie is definitely passionate, and she puts the community before herself, which is pretty unusual."

Saxbury shrugs off any recognition.

"I just like people," she says. "If I am in the grocery store and someone needs help, I just act and never think twice about it. I've never met a stranger. I truly believe that we were all put on this Earth to help each other, so that's what we should do."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Debbie Saxbury at Bobbio's Pizza, where she organized a 'cash mob' in January to spur an influx of customers to the downtown business. - Denise Baratta