Phoenix fire relief center closes
A storefront that operated for nearly a year in Phoenix providing meals, supplies and support for victims of the Almeda and Obenchain fires closed its doors Saturday, but the services will continue in other ways.
Phoenix Fire Relief Center at the Shoppes at Exit 24 had been managed by Rogue Climate, Rogue Action Center and the Southern Oregon Health Equity Coalition. The center has supported 450 to 800 households every week with food and supplies. It also provided financial support with gift cards, rental assistance and emergency sheltering. Volunteers worked over 12,000 hours to keep the operation running.
“Just being able to hear people’s stories was one of the really big things we were able to provide. We were able to connect people with the resources that were available,” said Elib Crist Dwyer, housing justice organizer at Rogue Action Center. A lot of individuals were not eligible for assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency and benefited from the center, he said.
The effort arose when Phoenix-Talent School District teachers organized giveaways for supplies and meals right after the fire. It was initially in the Home Depot parking lot, but soon moved to the Shoppes location. After the move, the three groups took over operations.
“They were trying to also start school. Rogue Action and Rogue Climate took over management of the site,” said Dwyer. The organizations had been assisting at a similar aid site established outside Talent Maker City in downtown Talent. That site continued to operate for about two months.
People were driving around to all the different aid sites to get things. It made more sense to have one spot to get the things they needed, said Dwyer. The three groups were able to staff it with personnel already experienced in organizing activities and volunteers.
“They were in a unique position to help because they already had established bases of volunteers to help coordinate efforts,” said Dwyer. “It was kind of bottom line for Rogue Action Center. We had done a lot of work on affordable and accessible housing, so it was right in line with what we had done before.”
The center ran seven days per week through November, before it switched to a five-day schedule. In January, a three-day schedule was inaugurated, but lunch and dinner services continued seven days per week at all times, usually feeding about 100 people per day.
Rogue Food Unites, another group that formed immediately after the fire, has been an integral part of the center. The group has restaurants prepare the meals that are served at the relief center, where there are no food prep facilities. That also allowed restaurants to bring back workers who had seen their jobs cut by the pandemic, said Dwyer.
Free lunches and dinners for fire survivors will continue at the Shoppes location through Aug 31. Beginning Sept. 1, meals will be served every day at First Phoenix Presbyterian Church.
Other items available included paper products, diapers, toiletries, bottled water and more, as well as food. Items for households included dishes, coffee makers, microwave ovens, small appliances, clothing, bedding and small furniture pieces. Donors could bring items directly to the shop.
Donations to keep the center running came from a variety of sources, including individual monetary donations from community members, assistance from the Rogue Valley Relief Fund, food from ACCESS and help from other organizations. Cash donations were averaging about $1,000 per week but had slowed recently.
Community support for the effort was “incredible,” said Dwyer. Living Waters Church in Medford has been helpful throughout storing food and bringing it to the center, he said.
“The need really hasn’t gone away. That’s something I don’t think a lot of people in the valley know,” said Dwyer. “There’s still a lot of people in motels … and there is a need for social services.”
Staff is directing people to services that have already been established. Those include the Teresa McCormick Center in Medford and the food and clothing programs at First Presbyterian Church in Phoenix.
“We will continue to support fire survivors, organize to bring our neighbors home, take action on climate change and build communities that are more resilient to disasters,” said Blanca Gutierrez, bilingual organizer at Rogue Climate.
“We’ve been able to reach many more community members through the fire relief center to assist people back into stable housing and ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines, both of which are important for community health,” said Michelle Glass, policy and advocacy coordinator for Southern Oregon Health Equity.
Shoppes at Exit 24, owned by Alan DeBoer, charged minimal rent for the space and agreed to extend the original lease by six months, Dwyer said.
Rogue Climate and Rogue Action Center will host a “Fire Survivor Supply Pop-Up” at Living Waters Church in Medford in early October on a date to be announced.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at firstname.lastname@example.org.