Deana Freres and Amelia Williams, of the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund, say progress continues to be made to get grants to those residents who lost their homes and property in last year’s wildfires.

The SCWRF was established in 2020 under the umbrella of the Santiam Memorial Hospital’s Service Integration Team nonprofit organization directly after wildfires devastated communities in the Santiam Canyon.

“The goal of SIT is to be able to assist people who have fallen on hard times to get back on their feet and back to being sustainable,” said Williams, SIT’s community engagement staffer.

As of November, the SCWRF had received more than $3.7 million in donations, of which just over $1.9 million has been disbursed in two phases of direct-to-survivor grants. A third phase is currently being put together.

Gifts in kind — such items as food and water, household items and computers — have totaled over $215,000.

The organization has a goal of raising and disbursing $5 million.

“Every dollar given to the fund will be distributed directly to the community or to survivors,” Freres said. She is an adviser and representative of the SCWRF, and noted that as of July, 1,186 families have been helped.

“The way we’re able to do that is because of the generosity of the Santiam Hospital,” Freres said. “They assumed all of that oversight, all of the overhead and every time we needed a computer or something printed or a financial report, the hospital’s team and administration did that.”

A dizzying list of organizations spotlights the depth of community involvement in SCWRF’s efforts, from the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and United Way to the Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul.

“When there’s this many partners at the table, it allows all of these funds to be leveraged, so we didn’t have to drain the $3 million that was donated to the wildfire relief fund to pay for everybody’s rent in the first month after the fires,” but instead use it to give the community and individuals the support they needed, Freres said.

“What this community has, I believe, that sets us apart from some of the other wildfire-affected communities across the state is this network of ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ in place already,” she said.

The hospital’s stated purpose for the Service Integration Program is to facilitate collaboration among community partners to provide coordinated resources and information for individuals and families in the Santiam region.

“As part of its community health programming,” Freres said, “the hospital set up service integration to make sure that the school districts, the faith-based communities, the nonprofits in the area and everyone else were all regularly talking about how to meet individual needs. That was already set up and it was an easy transition into wildfire response.

“If you look at the history of this area, it’s farming, it’s timber, it’s forestry,” she said.

“These are families that have been here for multiple generations. It’s just what small rural communities do, they step up and take care of things.”

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