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Holiday drive-thru aims to bring joy to fire victims

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Firefighters load a turkey and other food for a holiday meal Wednesday at Phoenix High School.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A Phoenix police officer carries ham to give to a family Wednesday at Phoenix High School.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Firefighters load a turkey and other food for a holiday meal into the back of vehicle Wednesday at Phoenix High School.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Trey Berkey opens the back of a car Wednesday to load a Christmas meal at Phoenix High School.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Heather Cage helps fire victims with clothes Wednesday during the giveaway at Phoenix High School.
Families displaced by Almeda fire get ham, turkey, fixings from police and fire

Families displaced by the Almeda fire more than a year ago will get to experience the joy of a holiday dinner this Christmas season.

That is because local fire, law enforcement and community businesses came together Wednesday at Phoenix High School to give away $30,500 worth of food — enough to feed 400 families. Each will get enough chow to feed eight people.

“That’s perfect!” said Joseph Hernandez, who plans to provide two meals to exactly that number of family members.

He was in the car that was first in line at the afternoon event, from 2 to 6 p.m. Even before cars were permitted to roll through the drive-thru, there was already a line.

Spotted in the parking lot was Trey Berkey, representative with Country Financial - the Berkey Agency, asking families whether they wanted turkey or ham.

Berkey, whose clients include Almeda fire victims, came up with the idea for the food drive.

“It’s been a tough year for everybody,” he said. “You think about COVID-19, and you compound that with families that have been disheveled and haven’t had a fixed place to live. I just felt like it was important to keep the awareness of families who have been having a hard time, particularly those who were impacted by the Almeda fire.”

Last month, Berkey reached out to his friends at Guild Mortgage and John L. Scott, and suddenly he had a trifecta of partners to help make the food drive a reality.

“We all have a personal tie, somewhere or another, to the community, and I just thought these two other groups would be willing to jump in to help with the financing piece,” Berkey said.

Brian Casey, branch manager of Guild Mortgage, remembers that call from his friend — who he has partnered with before — and told him “we’re in.”

“Losing your place to live — that’s our community. You’ve got to give something back,” said Casey, who also organized with his team a clothing drive for food drive takers.

Berkey reached out to those who were “critically vital in fighting the blaze” — Medford Fire Department, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and No. 5, as well as the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

“All four chiefs were an immediate, emphatic ‘yes,’ that they were all in where they could help,” Berkey said. “I asked for the resources of their team to help with the coordination piece.”

Aaron Bustard, battalion chief with Fire District 5, agreed to help.

“The day the fire hit, it bothered us a lot, because it was just such a loss,” he said. “This at least gives us a bit of a chance so we can feel like we’re still trying to help those families.”

Berkey made sure four deputies and firefighters were there Wednesday to assist with the execution of the food drive, giving “basically (everything) to complete an entire Christmas meal.”

He talked about the importance of displaced families having what they need to make a traditional holiday gathering possible.

“A year later, those families are still struggling to put meals on the table,” Berkey said. “It’s been a trying year, and I think these families are in a place where they just need a little good will.”

Joseph and his wife, Diana, said they could use some good will. The south Medford couple were displaced as a result of the fire.

“We went from homeless to being in a one-room cottage, and then FEMA takes us in and gives us a mobile to live in for a while,” Diana said. “I think God made a way for us to get our own place right now.”

For Christmas of 2020, life was too hectic for the Hernandez family to be able to enjoy the holidays with a meal.

“We were bouncing around temporary housing,” Joseph said.

But now it feels good to return to something the family always did.

“It makes a big difference when you get to see them in person,” Joseph said.

Diana hopes the meal brings not only family togetherness, but also “the right nourishment” — and for memories to be made.

“I couldn’t tell you how happy we are, how grateful we are for everything,” she said.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.