Volunteers overwhelmed with support for evacuees
Organized chaos was the best way to describe Saturday at Fraser Valley Elementary.
Cars lined the narrow road outside the school, which has been transformed into a makeshift center for donations. Volunteers unloaded and loaded vehicles stuffed with water, nonperishables, clothing, toiletries and just about everything else.
By the door, Shanna Ganne sat at a folding table with a laptop and notebook in front of her. She took down the names of prospective volunteers, had evacuees sanitize their hands before directing them to the donations and answered what seemed to be an unending string of questions.
Inside the gymnasium, masked volunteers fluttered through the stacks of shoes, coats, waters, toys, foods, bedding and more. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Julie Savage manned the door to keep the number of volunteers in the gym at 15, among her many other tasks.
One volunteer, Sondra Tilsley, stood out in a Christmas light-patterned shirt and Charlie Brown Christmas mask as she pushed a cart full of more donations into the gym.
“I started wearing them during the pandemic, and then through all the chaos of the last three to four weeks,” Tilsley said of her festive attire. “We also need Christmas during this fire and this disaster.”
These volunteers have come together to provide the workforce needed to sort through the thousands of donations.
The work at Fraser Valley Elementary has become an organic extension of the Grand County Outbreak of Kindness, the organization that was born at the beginning of the pandemic to connect volunteers and services with those who need it.
Right now, the Outbreak team wants evacuees to know that there are free and high quality goods available to them at Fraser Valley Elementary. New shoes and winter clothes, toys for kids, books and more are available beyond food.
Evacuees can come by the school and pick up whatever they need.
The outpouring of support has been incredible to the volunteers, who have had statewide partners as far as Pueblo reaching out to provide goods.
“We’ve had so many people coming to help,” Ganne said. “Yesterday when I was here, it just brought tears to my eyes. It still does because, you know, it’s just why it’s amazing to live here.”
By 11 a.m. Saturday the organization had to turn away food donations as the gym filled up. Only new clothing donations were being accepted at Fraser Valley Elementary, as the volunteers don’t have the bandwidth to sort through used goods.
• See a list of resources at healthygrandcounty.org under “Resources for Evacuees/How To Help”
• Find mental health support under “Mental Health Support for Fire Effects”
Check the Grand County Outbreak of Kindness Facebook page for specific donation needs.
The overflow of donations also made its way to Changes Thrift Store in Fraser, which has paused accepting donations of used clothing and other items as well. Even though Changes is not accepting used clothing donations at this time, evacuees are getting help at the store.
A manager at the thrift store said Changes is allowing evacuees to shop the store just like customers normally would, only now it’s free of charge, much like what’s happening at Fraser Valley Elementary. For more, call Changes at 970-726-4222.
Grand County response teams, including Outbreak of Kindness, have been overwhelmed with physical donations. It’s a nice problem to have, but those wishing to contribute are asked to donate monetarily instead.
Donations can be made at grandfoundation.com/donate and restricted to the “Wildfire Emergency Fund.” The Grand County Rural Health Network has compiled a list of information for donors and those in need at healthygrandcounty.org.
The donations has been incredible, but volunteers know that this is just the beginning.
“This is going to be a long road, especially when we start to look at cleanup and rebuilding,” Ganne said.
Tilsley said her friends saw her on TV Friday night and asked her why she was wearing her Christmas clothes. The volunteer — looking frazzled but upbeat like the many others rushing through the elementary school turned donation center — only had one answer: “That’s how we get through it all.”
Tilsley plans on wearing her Christmas shirts and mask for at least another few weeks.
• The Grand Foundation is raising funds for the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund.
• Grand County Outbreaks for Kindness, at Fraser Elementary, is processing ready-to-eat, single-serving foods and new clothing. They are also organizing volunteers as well as restaurants offering food to evacuees.
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