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RV program puts roofs over fire victims' heads

After losing their home in the Almeda fire Sept. 8, Phoenix residents Roberto and Veronica Medina have been holding out hope that emergency relief funds would keep a temporary roof — via a local motel — over the heads of their six children.

The family lost their home of 10 years — space 94 in Coleman Creek Estates along Highway 99 — and all the material possessions that made up their lives prior to the fire.

Wednesday, almost exactly a month later, they were given their first bit of certainty since the fire as they signed to take ownership of a 1992 camp trailer.

The tiny patch of grass at the RV park, and the dated but cozy old camper parked adjacent to the Jackson County Expo, could just as well have been a four-bedroom house gauging by the smiles on the mother, father and their six children, ages 12, 11, 6, 5, 3 and 4 months.

A new partnership between Rogue Retreat and the Phoenix-Talent School District, a program pairing displaced families with unused RVs and campers, launched Monday as an attempt to house some of the more than 2,400 families displaced by the Almeda fire.

Roberto Medina said his family was happy to have something that couldn’t be taken for lack of funds.

“It’s just wonderful. We have been so blessed. We are so happy. We’ve got a home now. We were staying at a hotel after we lost our home, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We’ve just been trying to figure it all out,” said the father.

Medina was working a landscaping job the morning of the fire. He and his clients felt certain the fire was far enough away in Ashland, but Medina said he was concerned about the heavy winds.

Even after the inferno shifted course, clawing toward Phoenix and Talent, and after his wife and children left the home “just in case,” Medina felt hopeful.

“After the fire, I waited and I thought, ‘It was really bad, but maybe my trailer is still there.’ The worst part, when I found out it was gone, wasn’t the furniture or the beds or clothes. It was the pictures of my children, the things I can’t get back.”

The sole remaining item was a statue of an angel child that once sat in the couple’s front yard. Since the fire, Medina said he has been surrounded by angels in the form of community members trying to help despite huge obstacles.

“The worst part was, every Sunday we had to check at the hotel office to see if they would say we had to leave. But now I’m not afraid anymore,” he said.

Nearby, his five older children ran in and out of the trailer, peeking out windows and inspecting the sleeping quarters while Veronica Medina snuggled 4-month-old Brandon.

Krystal Perkins, marketing and procurement coordinator for Rogue Retreat, said Medina called as soon as the program was announced.

“We first posted on social media Friday, and he saw the ad for donating trailers and called me Saturday morning, really early, and he was just pleading for help because they have six children,” said Perkins.

Central Point residents Vicki and Bob Risner, who donated the trailer and were invited to meet the Medinas, said her family didn’t hesitate to donate. The couple bought the camper new in the early 1990s and used it for temporary housing when they moved to Oregon, later using it for camping with their children, who have since grown.

Vicki Risner left a supply of colorful, fluffy blankets in the camper for the new family and was brainstorming other ways to help.

“It was a no-brainer. We didn’t use it this year or last year. We were working on other things. It was just sitting there, so it felt like the right thing to do,” she said.

“To be able to give a family a place to live after the fires. This is much more important than having something parked outside our house.”

The two couples made plans to meet back at the camper for dinner once the Medinas are settled in. Phoenix-Talent Schools Superintendent Brent Barry, who watched the exchange, said the trailer was the fourth donated, with others in the works. Barry said it was heartwarming to be able to provide some stability to struggling families. An added help, the Jackson County Expo donated the camp space for donated trailers through Dec. 31.

“It all kind of fell into place. We actually had our first donor a few days after the fire. It was a young family who had a camper and wanted to help a family in some way,” Barry said.

“We began looking for partners to try and do more. That came to fruition with Rogue Retreat.”

With 80% of district families affected — and 30% of students who lost their homes entirely just the first week of the new school year, Barry said the district was focusing on a holistic approach to caring for its students.

“We have 700 students who are displaced right now, so it was a huge impact, but I’ve been pretty proud of our staff and our community,” he said.

“This is what makes the difference. Yes, we’re in the business of education, but education has a whole range and that range is pretty broad right now.”

Barry noted that a significant number of Phoenix alumni had been on scene to save the high school from flames during the fire. On Thursday, the Medinas learned that their former neighbor, who also lost her home, was in a camper just a few spaces away.

Perkins said plans were being made to move the two families “back to being neighbors again.”

Barry marveled, “It’s pretty crazy all that has happened, but it’s really nice when things come back together. We’re not without a lot of challenges right now, but it’s amazing to see the community come together to get through it all,” he said.

“The community has all really been there for one another,” he said. “Pirate pride never dies.”

To donate to the RV/camp trailer program, or find out about being a recipient, email Perkins at Krystal@RogueRetreat.com or call 541-301-7448.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Roberto Medina signs paperwork for a donated trailer for his famly at the Southern Oregon RV Park in Central Point Tuesday. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)