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Hoping to inspire new beginnings, a group of Rogue Valley plant “wranglers” are collecting plants and flowers for victims of the devastating fires that swept through Phoenix and Talent Sept. 8.

Coordinators say they hope to help those who were displaced to regain some sense of everyday life after necessities such as shelter and clothing have been addressed.

The Almeda fire caught most Talent and Phoenix residents by surprise, with little time to escape with necessities much less personal items like houseplants.

The “New Roots Almeda Plant Gifting” group will host its first plant roundup event — for both giving and receiving — from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.

Medford resident Nicole McDowell, who is spearheading the event, said the focus is to help fire victims replace houseplants that perished in the thousands of house fires.

“I work at the hospital, and it had already been such a crazy year with COVID. For me, my plants have really saved my sanity with everything we have all faced during 2020. I love gardening — it’s like the crazy cat lady, but with plants,” McDowell said.

McDowell did not lose her home but said there were several hours where, like so many others, she had to evacuate and prepare for the worst.

“I slept really lightly that night. I sent the kids to stay somewhere else, stayed with my animals and, before I finally decided to leave, I watered all my plants one last time. I knew I could possibly be saying goodbye.”

With her home spared, McDowell said her heart went out to families who were not so lucky.

“The very next day, somebody got on our plant group and was like, ‘I’m so sad, I just lost all my babies!’ Right then and there, I just knew. Our plant community is so caring, and they always share plants already.”

Phoenix resident Sonia Cosley, 72, who was temporarily displaced when the fire raged nearby, lost many of her four-dozen houseplants due to being unable to be at home to care for them. Cosley said she was touched by McDowell’s effort.

“The kindness of these women was the silver lining in all this tragedy. I think it’s an absolute miracle how much our community has stepped up to help one another,” said Cosley.

“So many people are starting over again, and you start thinking about this plant or that plant. It’s hard to feel like you’ve lost everything. All I had to begin with were my dog and my plants, so it really shocked me when she said she was going to get my plants together for me again. It was the sweetest gesture at a time when everything in life had gone awry.”

Brandy Wine, a Phoenix resident who relocated to White City last week after 47 days without housing, said the plants were a symbol of hope. Wine lived on Northridge Terrace until the Almeda fire destroyed her home of 15 years.

“Moving into a new place was a definite blessing. And there were a lot of generous people in the community who donated so much so quickly. After it was all settled, it felt like it still needed some life breathed into it,” Wine said.

“When I got some plants from (McDowell), it felt like it just brought life into something that had just been so empty before, just an element of health and life and new beginnings. There have just been so many blessings since these horrible fires.”

McDowell said plant givers and recipients could connect via Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/4274271775932804) or at the live event to share and receive plants. Organizers are looking for a community partner or local business to host the event.

Plants are being collected leading up to the event. McDowell said all types of houseplants, succulents and flowers are being collected.

For questions about donating or receiving plants, or to offer a location for the drive, call 541-778-4256.

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

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneNicole McDowell works on a planting donation Monday for fire victims at her home in Medford.