One by one, readers, you have helped us make a huge difference in dealing with a devastating situation.
We put the call out to you, via our newspapers on Aug. 28, and that day and the next and the next, you came in with donations of paper towels, soaps, shampoos, foil, snacks, beef jerky, hand sanitizers, baby wipes … the list goes on. This column may have the title, The Power of One, but it doesn’t refer to an Oakdale school initiative of the same name a few years back. Instead, it means that each ONE of you, has made us a much more powerful entity than any of us could have been alone.
Saturday morning, myself, our classified/advertising coordinator Michelle Kendig and Escalon resident Shelley Dempsey headed out of Oakdale and up toward Sonora, two vehicles full of donations that you, our readers, had made over the course of just a few days to benefit the victims of and the personnel battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park.
When Michelle asked if we could put something in the paper about seeking donations, she had a list in hand provided by the Red Cross. Some of the items did seem a little unusual – blue painters’ tape among them – but all we knew was we wanted to help and this was a way to do it. Probably the majority of us have been to Yosemite. If you haven’t been that far, you likely have made a stop at Black Oak Casino. Or even gone shopping or sightseeing in Tuolumne County. So many communities there are being impacted so severely by the Rim Fire that it is mind-boggling to try and comprehend. So of course, I told Michelle, let’s put something in the paper and see if we can get a few donations for those in need ‘up the hill.’
We could not have been more humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response; people just kept coming. The barrel set up in the front office was quickly filled – emptied and filled again – and we started using the circulation storage office for Rim Fire donations. As Shelley Dempsey and her mom came in Friday morning with yet another load of donations, Michelle wondered aloud how she was going to fit everything in her vehicle. Without so much as a blink, Shelley was our second driver/vehicle for the delivery of donated goods.
We loaded up the back of her vehicle and Michelle’s shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday and set out to deliver the goods to the Red Cross office in Sonora. We weren’t even up to the Kennedy Road turnoff that takes you down into Knights Ferry before we could see the smoke. There was just a haze everywhere that fooled you into thinking it was fog. By the time we went past the South Shore turnoff for Lake Tulloch, you knew it wasn’t fog. A quick roll down of the window was enough to convince you; it was the smell of smoke all around, like you were in the middle of a campfire. Coincidentally, Jimi Hendrix came on the XM Classic Vinyl radio station right about that time singing “Fire.”
Arriving at the Sonora Red Cross, relief workers from out of the area (including some from Manteca) said they were filling in so those Red Cross staffers from Sonora could have a day off. They said it would be better if we took the donations directly to the Sonora fire station, to keep all the items for firefighters together. So we found our way there, only to have the young firefighter on duty send us toward a camp in Tuolumne City. A Tuolumne County sheriff’s deputy there said the crews stationed there pretty much had everything they needed but we could try taking the donations to the nearby Base Camp-Tent City area, where the firefighters meet each day to gather supplies before fighting the fire.
While getting somewhat discouraged that we had all these donations with apparently nowhere to go, we pulled in to the base camp and were once again amazed. Tents, major earth-moving equipment, bins and barrels of gloves and clothes, stacks and stacks of boxes with supplies for fighting on the front lines of the fire and, happily, we also found some very appreciative firefighters and members of the California Conservation Corps. There, we were able to unload the majority of the goods, with those at the camp grateful for everything that was donated. Our boxed crackers, cookie cups, beef jerky, all joined the table where firefighters can grab a snack when they return from who knows how many hours battling blazes in unimaginable conditions; the toiletries were welcomed, as many of the crews rough it in tents set up on site. The blue painters’ tape, we found out, is necessary because as firefighters need to set up signs along the route, they use that tape to post them on trees, outbuildings, fence posts, etc. – as they do not leave any residue that could potentially harm the structure they are taped on. Who knew? The firefighter happy to see a box of painters’ tape rolls sure did.
And the young California Conservation Corps members, handling a variety of jobs as part of the effort, were thankful indeed that people in our Central Valley communities were thinking of them, wishing them well and offering what we could in the way of simple comforts.
What items the firefighters didn’t need, we were able to take to Interfaith Ministries in Sonora, where fire evacuees can come and get items they need to make their time away from home a little easier to take.
All in all, every item donated by our readers got into the hands of the people that need them most, the evacuees who will be trying to put their lives back together when the flames die down, and the firefighters risking their lives every day to get the job done.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you all for helping us make a difference. There is POWER in numbers, but it all starts with ONE.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.