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Bike brigade pedals water from Ashland to Talent

Across Ashland, impromptu resource centers sprang up through a mesh of community leaders, social media, concerned citizens, religious organizations and fitness groups.

A fleet of cyclists departed from Inconceivable Fitness and FlipSide shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday, carting flats and buckets of water, nonperishable goods, pet food and camping equipment. The brigade headed up West Hersey Street toward Jackson Wellsprings first, before knocking door to door on standing Talent homes to deliver necessities for those trapped behind roadblocks and Almeda fire carnage.

Cycling past the staging area on a daily ride, a few turned around to ask, “How do I help?”

“Pack up some water,” a voice called over a bustling crowd of cyclists toting saddlebags, trailers and backpacks of supplies.

As cars cannot pass roadblocks maintained on Highway 99, this group found Plan B.

Standing around a folding table inside Inconceivable Fitness, five Siskiyou School students loaded up Organic Great Seed bread with nut butter and jam for first-responder lunches.

The first bike brigade attempted to deliver goods Wednesday to Phoenix but diverted due to evolving fires.

Organizer Donnie Maclurcan emphasized safety with the crew before departing, recommended N-95 masks due to smoke and the coronavirus, implemented a buddy system and requested the group adhere to physical distancing whenever possible.

“You’re already a hero, you don’t need to take more water than you need to be,” Maclurcan said to the group of about 100 as goods were creatively packed and strapped onto electric and people-powered bikes.

A few blocks away, volunteers and staff at The Siskiyou School distributed supplies and collated donations. Around 4 p.m. Wednesday, a group of volunteers took in truckloads of goods, which were turned around on their way to the Jackson County Expo due to new fire eruptions in Central Point.

“We went from a very small setup to a very large-scale setup within a couple hours,” said Lora Wilde, community relations and outreach manager for The Siskiyou School.

Food, water, toys, bedding, towels and a few mattresses sat ready for those needing assistance Thursday afternoon, and left out overnight for families who could not make it before 6 p.m. The resource center remains open throughout the day Friday. Apart from faculty, parents, alumni and students, some people she did not recognize also wandered in to help, Wilde said.

The donation center cannot take any more large furniture items, including mattresses. Clothing in a variety of sizes is readily available.

An organizing team worked late into Wednesday night and began early Thursday morning to prepare to help those who lost property and basic necessities. Siskiyou families and well-established community organizations contributed to lengthy text threads about available services — bringing resources and human capital into service, Wilde said.

With hotels booked solid, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland opened its doors Wednesday to help refer evacuees to services and offered a laundry and shower trailer Thursday.

Ashland Presbyterian Church opened an emergency shelter Thursday night for up to 20 people.

OHRA board member Rev. Dan Fowler said it seemed a “no brainer” as a church to open their space for fire refugees, with basic dinner, breakfast and floor space. The church aims to make a difference for “folks that are just traumatized,” he said.

For now, Fowler aims to allow a group of 20 to remain at the emergency shelter for up to one week at a time, unless they find alternate accommodations. Church members and neighbors organized blanket and pillow collection, but evacuees are encouraged to bring their own sleeping bags if possible.

The Elk Lodge collected and distributed free meals and clothing, while Paddington Station, Red Cross and other organizations sent items to the Expo, according to OHRA Executive Director Michelle Arellano.

Despite an outpouring of start-up community support, the general sentiment regarding emergency shelter and other immediate services was described as “up in the air” and “fluid.” Shelter remains the most prominent challenge of the crisis and for some, the Expo is too far to access necessities, she said.

Some OHRA rental assistance funding remains available to help residents locate or keep housing — funding that had already been called on for COVID-19 housing assistance, Arellano said.

As of Wednesday, Jackson County Emergency Management requested no more donations at the Expo directly until new requests are issued, as the site is “swimming” in Rogue Valley generosity.

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