My NeighbOR, an initiative of Every Child Oregon, helps families affected by the Oregon wildfires weather the COVID-19 pandemic
ESTACADA – Sylvia Margeta had been camping at Timothy Lake near Mt. Hood with her granddaughter, who she is fostering, and Sylvia’s significant other. When they got back to their home on September 8 in Estacada, she was not aware of the severity and proximity of the wildfires.
On her way to work at the General Dollar store in Estacada, she noticed that Hwy. 224 was closed. Since she was still able to get to work, she didn’t realize how close the wildfires really were. But later that day, she got a phone call at work that told her that her home was in a level three (“go now”) evacuation zone.
“My boss and the people I work with are amazing. They found someone to cover for me. They said, ‘Go!’” she says.
She rushed home and the family packed up what they could. The first night they went to her sister’s house in Estacada, but the next day that house was designated level three evacuation as well. They all then went to a Gresham church where her nephew is a pastor.
For 10 days they stayed in a tent behind their car in the church’s parking lot.
“The church was great. We could use their facilities and we all cooked our meals together. That was really nice,” Margeta said.
She is trying to have her granddaughter, Skyla, certified to live with her permanently, so she was in contact with her certifier and also Skyla’s Oregon Department of Human Services Child Welfare case worker. The caseworker got her in touch with Every Child’s My NeighbOR effort.
Every Child is an Oregon-based non-profit that partners with the Oregon Department of Human Services to support youth and families who are involved in foster care. When COVID hit in March, Every Child stood up an emergency response platform—My NeighbOR. So when wildfires started in early September, they already had a mechanism in place to respond to youth and families in need. The group, working with case workers, helped fill short-term needs such as groceries, hotel, air filters, and gift cards for clothing and other basics, said Brooke Gray, Every Child Executive Director.
Through My NeighbOR, community members provided Margeta’s family with a three-night stay in a Portland motel. It had been weeks since they slept on a mattress, had their own bathroom, or could breathe healthy air. On the first day at the motel, Margeta got a call from a pastor offering her seven more days of lodging at the motel.
“I can’t remember who that pastor is. But I would like to thank him. I also want to thank My Neighbor and Every Child. I didn’t even know about them. People have been so wonderful,” she said.
When it was safe for Margeta to return to her house, she discovered that the wildfire stopped three feet from the back of the house. But other structures on her two-acres were destroyed by fire: her shop with all of its tools, a motorhome where she stored her deceased father’s tools, the pump house, several dirt bikes, a motorcycle, her daughter’s truck, a boat, and her garden.
“But we were so lucky. The fire went right between our chicken coop and our greenhouse. And we were able to fish the pump out of the well, so we do have water now. We’re starting to clean it all up,” she said.
My NeighbOR was there to help again.
“When we first launched My NeighbOR, it was for people needing help from COVID, but then it became our vehicle to provide needs for people due to the wildfires,” says Gray, the Every Child Executive Director. “But the economic impact of COVID and the wildfires will be felt long-term, and My NeighbOR provides a way for community members to walk alongside children and families impacted by the child welfare system. Families are already struggling. A lot of families do not have months worth of savings. So this really is neighbors helping neighbors.”
To get involved with My NeighbOR, go to https://everychildoregon.org/myneighbor/. You can help by meeting a specific need of a family or youth, or by donating gift cards to places such as grocery stores.