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Heartwarming help

Box fan and neckerchief project helps community battle the heat

For one local community, recent sweltering heat prompted equal parts heat exhaustion with acts of kindness.

From box fans and cooling neckerchiefs to rallying around several families with even more critical need, a community Facebook group run by local community advocate Debbie Saxbury has helped ease the brunt of recent triple digit temperatures.

One of several recipients this past week, Central Point resident Renee Lowe, a retired hospice nurse, received two fans, some bottled water and cooling “hankies” after several days suffering with indoor temperatures in the upper 90s.

“My air conditioning went out and it’s been out for a month. I didn’t know what else to do because I’m usually the person trying to help others. But I broke down and asked for help. I was puking, it got so hot inside my house,” Lowe said.

“Debbie got ahold of me and said, ‘You need some fans? We’ve got fans!’”

Lowe said the kindness of the community group and help cooling her home was heartwarming.

“My dogs — they’re 14 and 15 — I didn’t think their tongues could hang that low. I’m so grateful we live in a wonderful community,” she said.

“I live on $291 a month social security and I don’t even waste a drop of water. I keep a bucket handy and when I’m waiting for the water to get hot, I collect all the cold that comes out first to water my plants.”

Saxbury said she’s used to seeing stories of need — and of neighbors offering help — but the heat wave had prompted more of both. A lifelong community volunteer, Saxbury said she was proud of her community for stepping up.

A 49ers fan group, the Niner Empire Southern Oregon, donated the neckerchiefs for Saxbury to pass out while club member, and longtime local resident, Patricia Alvarez, sent her husband to the store to “spend $200 on fans” to get Saxbury's project started.

The fan and neckerchief project helped several community members, including an Almeda fire victim, still struggling to get FEMA funds and living in a dilapidated travel trailer. Saxbury delivered fans and water to help the women get comfortable.

A single mother and her kids were without air conditioning and a group post yielded a neighbor willing to donate and install a window air conditioning unit.

Another local family reported their air conditioning stopped working last week and the family’s kids were sick from excess heat. Saxbury used a few days off work, despite earlier plans to hit the river, to deliver fans and neckerchiefs.

“I’d been asking the community, as soon as we knew it was going to be really hot, if anybody was willing to buy fans to donate or to help with the neckerchiefs. And I just asked everybody to just check on their neighbors and make sure everyone was doing okay,” Saxbury said.

“After delivering and taking stuff all over the place in the heat all day, I got a message from Facebook from this gal who was just so desperate. Her son has chronic kidney disease and their house was just so hot.”

Rallying on Facebook, a post by Saxbury prompted Grants Pass Heating and Air owners to make a service call — around 10 p.m. at night — when they learned the house was still in the upper 90s.

“That guy works his butt off and has been working terrible hours because of this heat and he didn’t even charge them to go over and help. We had people on the Facebook page offering money for the family to stay in a hotel, people who wanted to take ice pops over for the kids and one lady offered up her motorhome. She said, ‘We’ll crank up the air conditioning right now, just send them over, Debbie!” Saxbury said.

“It just brought tears to my eyes that people can be so kind.”

Sheri Myers, co-owner of Grants Pass Heating and Air, credited Saxbury with rallying the community and sharing stories of people in need.

“Debbie runs that page and always has the best ideas and finds the need. She posted how the children were throwing up and I just told (co-owner) Jerry about it and of course we wanted to go over and see if he could help.”

Myers added, “At the end of the day, it’s all because of Debbie. When she posts something like that, the community really comes together to help people. We all try to help in whatever small way that each of us can, but she’s the one who finds the need and finds solutions. She makes it easy for us to all come together.”

To donate towards the box fans and cooling neckerchiefs, e-mail Saxbury at dlsaxbury@gmail.com or (541) 200-5246.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Debbie Saxbury, left, gives a fan to Renee Lowe at her home in Central Point on Monday.