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Former Rogue Valley residents rush to bring aid

Three Phoenix-Talent schools alumni who now make their homes in Los Angeles will return Wednesday to the Rogue Valley with some 30,000 items of new clothing, blankets, toiletries, face masks and other supplies for victims of recent devastating fires.

Watching news reports of the Almeda fire on Tuesday from over 700 miles away, 2012 Phoenix High graduate Max Hamilton desperately waited for word that friends and family were safe from the blaze that destroyed huge 2,357 homes and over 100 businesses in Phoenix and Talent.

Hamilton was on the phone with his mother, who lives near the south end of Ashland, when the fire was initially reported as a 4 acre blaze. Within hours, the communities of Phoenix and Talent went from evacuation orders to endless reports of devastation.

“Everything happened pretty fast and it was hard to get all the information. I was watching Facebook and Twitter and trying to follow police scanners. Some of my good friends were evacuating, and my family was group texting to see if everyone was OK,” he said.

While he hasn’t lived in the Rogue Valley since shortly after graduating from high school, Hamilton, who has built a career in the fashion industry, visits regularly and considers the Rogue Valley his home.

“I felt so hopeless not knowing if any of my family or friends were all right or if they were even going to have houses after the fire” he said.

“By Wednesday morning, things started coming out about how destructive it was. One of my aunts lost her home and several friends lost their homes. ... I just had to do something.”

Immediately, Hamilton pledged his own company, Limitless Production, to help as well as a partnering company, Basket Case. Other companies reached out to help as well.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m just going to my warehouse to put together as much stuff as I possibly can.' I knew I’d be bringing 11,000-12,000 pieces of clothing and something like 3,000 masks,” he said.

“We are now up to well over 25,000 or maybe even 30,000 items at this point. The generosity has been amazing.”

An unexpected collaboration, Phoenix natives Nina and Maia Smidt offered to help collect donations. Nina Smidt, co-founder of nonprofit Earth Angels, dedicated to inspiring “mass compassion,” (earthangels.org) was home in Phoenix during the fires and helped her family evacuate. The Smidt sisters live in LA, Nina working as a model agent at Vision Los Angeles, while her Maia works for a tech company.

“My co-workers in LA rallied behind me in the most incredible way. So far we’ve raised almost $10,000 in donations with celebrities and influencers posting about the devastation in our little town,” she said.

“This is the town my siblings and I grew up in. The friends that we have that lost everything is countless.”

Maia Smidt and Hamilton will arrive in the Rogue Valley this morning with a 26-foot truck and the trio will setup shop at Kids Unlimited.

Hamilton said the donation effort was a small way he knew he could help.

“It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to see all the destruction to the community. I almost didn’t know where to start,” he said.

“Seeing friends post pictures of their homes that they grew up in completely destroyed along with tons of local businesses that were staples in the community left me just staring at my phone in disbelief. It didn’t seem like something like that could happen in the Rogue Valley.”

He added, “We have literally tens of thousands of items donated from LA to a tiny community in Oregon that I guarantee 99.9% of them had never heard of before. It’s inspiring to see the way that the community and people from outside the community have stepped up to try and off whatever help that they could.”

Donations will be distributed at 10 a .m. Wednesday from the Kids Unlimited parking lot, 821 North Riverside Ave. Kids Unlimited will serve breakfast and lunches for donation recipients or others in need.

Said Hamilton, “We’ll be out there starting at 10 in the morning and we plan to go until people stop showing up.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

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