Linn County Wildfire Evacuation Shelter Receives Aid From LBCC Students
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 8, Idahna residents David Stevens and JoAnn Serdy were awoken by a pounding at their front door.
“The fire department was telling us we had to evacuate now,” Serdy said. “We had no time, so we just grabbed our medication and jumped in our car. By the time we reached the Detroit dam [just 15 minutes away] the fire was everywhere.”
“It was like we were in the movie ‘Volcano,’” Stevens added.
This scene was the terrifying reality for many Santiam Canyon residents who fled their homes, narrowly escaping the flames of the Beachie Creek Fire, which spread rapidly overnight. The evacuees, many of whom have lost their homes entirely, have sought shelter with friends, family or, like Serdy and Stevens, at the Linn County Evacuation Shelter set up at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Albany.
According to County Commissioner Will Tucker, the Linn County Evacuation Shelter is currently housing around 450 people and more than 1000 animals.
“Most people aren’t actually staying in the shelter,” Tucker said. “They are staying in tents or campers in the parking lot. But even those who aren’t staying inside come in for snacks, meals or medical care.”
The shelter is run completely by volunteers. Tucker said that Samaritan Health services has sent several nurses and doctors to volunteer in the shelter’s medical area. Many people from the community have also signed up to volunteer with everything from registration to sorting through the thousands of donations that have come pouring in.
One of the biggest jobs on site, the kitchen, is being run almost exclusively by volunteers from the Linn-Benton Community College Culinary Arts program.
Fifth-year Culinary Arts instructor Josh Green grew up in Lyons, a town in the middle of the Santiam Canyon evacuation zone. His parents, who still live there, were among those evacuated from their homes.
“I wanted to help,” Green said. “So, when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that the Salvation Army was looking for volunteers, I told him ‘Just tell me where I need to be!’”
When Green arrived at the shelter the next morning, there were two people serving breakfast out of the Salvation Army’s food truck with no plan for lunch.
“They had no idea what to do, so I just went in and started running it like it was my own thing,” Green said. “I got on Facebook and asked if there were any other chefs or students willing to come help. Next thing I knew, I had 10 present and former students along with almost the entire culinary arts faculty coming to help.”
One of those faculty members was Gretchen Manning, who is now sharing the responsibility of running the kitchen with Green.
“I was on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming when I saw Josh’s post,” Manning said. “I texted him I was on my way, and I turned around and drove straight back.”
By the time Manning arrived the next day, Green had moved his operation out of the food truck and into the fairgrounds’ professional kitchen. He had also started inventorying food, setting up menus and filling the shift schedules for the next week.
“The Salvation Army told me to just tell them what I needed and they would make it happen,” Green said.
They provided money for the first food order but now the food for the kitchen is coming largely from donations.
“Businesses have donated a lot of food items,” Manning said, pointing to the racks of bread donated by Franz. “We also get a lot of food items from the donation center. Large items like big bags of rice, watermelons, food service-sized cans of food that people can’t really take back to their campers, we take to incorporate into our meals.
“Several local restaurants have donated entire cooked meals. The lunch today [Sunday] came from La Roca, Papa Murphy’s donated pizza for dinner last night, Gambaretti’s catered a full meal, and Subway is doing a sandwich lunch later this week.”
Frankies Restaurant, Little Caesars, University Hero. and Five Pies Pizza also donated meals and the Linn-Benton Culinary Arts Club donated money for food and supplies.
Green and Manning are in charge of running the kitchen, which is no small task, but the actual food prep and serving is being done mostly by present and former students of the LB Culinary Arts program.
Andrew Hulcy and Soren Skinner, both second-year students and Corvallis residents, have worked about eight hours a day since Thursday.
“Being stuck inside because of the smoke was so nerve-wracking,” Skinner said. “I’m glad to be able to get out and do something that helps others.”
“I plan to keep volunteering until school starts in a couple weeks,” Hulcy said.
When the students and faculty return to the classroom — mostly virtual — at the beginning of the fall term, the running of the kitchen will fall on other volunteers.
Katelynn Omete, a culinary arts alum, has volunteered to take over the kitchen’s oversight.
“So many of my family and friends have been affected by this,” Omete said. “So, when I saw there was a need I could fill, I did.”
Adrienne Ewanchyna, a culinary arts alum who owns and operates Indulgence Personal Chef, is volunteering in her off time.
“A few years ago my family was affected by the wildfire in Corvallis so I understand what these people are going through,” Ewanchyna said. “This has given me a lot of anxiety and I’m happy to be able to direct it in a positive direction.”
If you would like to volunteer at the evacuation shelter you can sign-up online through the City of Albany website or at this link.
If you would like to make a monetary donation, please refer to the Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active Disaster (ORVOAD) verified disaster relief organization list at orvoad.org.
For physical donations, please refer to the Linn County Wildfire Donations page for a list of current needs.