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Propane upgrades comfort fire victims

Trying to bring some comfort and reduce stress levels for families dislocated by devastating summer fires, St. Vincent de Paul is working to repair donated travel trailers and upgrade propane tanks to ensure heating and cooking during cold winter nights don’t require multiple fill-ups per week.

John Vinatieri, president of St. Vincent de Paul Society Medford, said his organization is just one of many trying to help families achieve some degree of normalcy after more than 2,600 homes were lost to fires in September.

St. Vincent’s has received more than $400,000 in donations and grants since the fires, specifically to render aid for displaced fire victims, including a recent $75,000 boost from Sacred Heart Church, which Vinatieri said came from churches all over the country who passed donation plates with Southern Oregon in mind.

With a slew of organizations stepping up in the immediate aftermath of the fires to offer everything from food and clothes to tools and travel trailers, Vinatieri said St. Vincent’s tried to find unmet needs.

With the RV assistance in place — many of which were facilitated through a program by Rogue Retreat — local companies stepped in to help with items such as furnishings, dishes and even wooden stairs.

In addition to helping provide funding for motels and rental deposits, St. Vincent’s volunteers and counselors learned there was a need for RV repairs and propane tank supplies.

Most travel trailers have five-gallon propane tanks, making for frequent refill trips. Partnering with Suburban Propane, St. Vincent’s has covered the $650 per-unit cost to install 100-gallon tanks and to cover initial fill-ups.

“When you’re living in one of these trailers full time — and it’s winter so not only are you cooking for your family but it’s cold at night — the propane doesn’t last very long,” said Vinatieri.

“And besides the propane, a lot of people donated trailers, and some of them were a little bit older and had some things that needed fixed, like electrical or sewage issues.”

Vinatieri said receiving $75,000 from a single source tugged at his heart strings.

“When they first called, I thought for sure they must have said $7,500, and I thought it was just really great. And then I found out I heard wrong, and that it was actually $75,000. We’ll be able to provide a lot of relief for people with those funds.”

Board member and past president Socorro Holloway said the larger propane tanks will ease some stress for families living in temporary housing. Adequate fuel for stoves, heaters and hot water is a comfort to struggling families, Holloway said.

“The first day we started doing this, we had 12 families sign up right away. The next day, 10 more signed up,” she said.

“What we are offering is to do a 100-gallon propane tank instead of the small ones that many of them were using. It’s costing us for them to bring the tank to the space and for the first 100 gallons when they fill the tank, so it’s just over $630 per trailer. Depending on the family size, it lasts up to six weeks for some of them, instead of going every few days to fill up the smaller tanks.”

Beatriz Gomez Flores, whose family of six lost their mobile home in the Almeda fire, said community support and small comforts had kept her family going during the cold winter after having lost “pretty much everything” this summer.

“It’s a really big help because normally the propane tank would work for our family for only two or three days, sometimes we could make it to four.

We have to cook and have the heater, so as soon as it would be empty we would have to go to the gas station to fill it up,” she said.

“Now we can go three, almost four weeks and not run out yet. ... We appreciate all the community help so much. It has been one less thing to be worried about after all we have been through.”

To donate to St. Vincent’s recovery fund for fire victims, see www.stvincentdepaulmedford.info/donate.html

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

Beatriz A Gomez Bolanos prepares a meal while her son Julio Bryan Flores, 17, works on school work at their temporary housing at the Southern Oregon RV Park. (Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune)