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Readers help Rogue Valley residents get back on their feet

Shining a light on homelessness locally, the annual Light One Candle series showed Southern Oregon isn’t short on generosity, months after devastating wildfires consumed thousands of homes across the region.

More than 50 people in two days pledged assistance for an 18-year-old man who had been homeless his entire life before recent involvement with Community Works. Newspaper readers gave him blankets, hats, gloves, socks, quilts, jackets and housewares to turn his new Medford apartment into a home.

“I have never had anyone care about me before,” the man told his caseworkers. “I don’t know how to thank them.”

The community’s caring provided enough gifts for other clients of Community Works’ Transitional Living Program, who planned to open the presents together and share a special meal. This Christmas will be the first that the young man — and other youth in the program — won’t be hungry or imperiled on the streets.

Formerly living on the streets, an 80-year-old woman has bedding, decor and household goods for her tiny house in Rogue Retreat’s Hope Village. Donors also provided gift cards and funds toward helping the woman find permanent housing. Medford police found her living in a box on the Bear Creek Greenway last winter after her husband died and she couldn’t afford their home on a small income from Social Security.

A man who struggles to access social services since he escaped — traumatized and penniless — from labor traffickers gained a pickup truck with a camper as shelter from winter weather. This 36-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia who came lawfully to work in the United States also received the offer of housing in a reader’s home rent free for several months. Donations of clothing, coats, shoes, dishes and cooking utensils will help to keep this client of the Center for NonProfit Legal Services warm and fed while he searches for employment.

“When I found out how this community came together for someone in need, like me, I was speechless,” the man told CNPLS lawyers representing him. “I was so humbled by the generosity of our people here. I am so thankful because this would be the fresh start that I need. It is extremely difficult to piece your life together when you constantly have to think about where to camp and how to get food and stay warm.”

Also searching for housing, two sisters whose Talent home burned in the Almeda fire received an “extraordinary” show of community support, including the offer for a semester of tuition paid to Rogue Community College on behalf of each of the women, 19 and 21. Cash and gift cards totaling more than $1,000 will help them replace belongings lost in the fire. The older sister’s 10-month-old sons also have new clothing. Both women are victims of violent crime working with CNPLS to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“They couldn’t believe that complete strangers would want to care and love and give them a hand up during this hard time for them,” said CNPLS lawyer Laura Lindley-Gutierrez. “After losing the trailer that they lived in and all their belongings, it just felt like this Christmas was going to be one of sadness and struggle. But the donations from the community are the star on top of the tree; they are the lights in the dark.”

Other profiles of families searching for permanent housing or living in substandard conditions elicited thousands of dollars in donations and many tangible items for clients of organizations, such as CASA of Jackson County, Children’s Advocacy Center, Family Nurturing Center, Kids Unlimited and OnTrack. The community also instilled hope in families struggling with unemployment, as well as victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and assault represented by Community Works, Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, Redemption Ridge and Southern Oregon Head Start.

Tune in to the special podcast conclusion for more details about donations to each Light One Candle profile at mailtribune.com/podcasts.

Lacey Elliot shows an iPad and other gifts donated to the Children’s Advocacy Center in Medford through the Mail Tribune’s Light One Candle series. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune