‘Feeling good about moving forward’: Wildfire relief donations give families hope in Santiam Canyon

The Knights of Columbus and Santiam Hospital’s Integration Team created wildfire relief stores where everything comes free to wildfire victims.

SANTIAM JUNCTION, Ore. — River Wilson and Karrie Martell are new parents.  

“Sleep deprivation is a real thing,” Wilson said.

“We really have to learn to take those warnings because we really didn’t know how bad the sleep was going to be,” Martell said.  

RELATED: Oregon homeowners stressed over state’s wildfire cleanup process

The couple welcomed baby Marlo into the world about a month ago, while the community they call home was burning.  

“It’s kind of crazy,” Wilson said. “Throughout the fire and everything, we were pregnant for most of it and we were actually in the hospital a week and a half after we were evacuated.”

“Thinking about what was going on outside the hospital doors was actually a lot to handle,” Martell said. “We had to think about the quality of the air, the fire traveling down the highway because we were scared it was going to make its way past Stayton.”

The fires put Wilson out of work for a month. Their apartment is still standing but damaged by smoke. Leaving the hospital and bringing their newborn home didn’t come with the normal joy mixed with jitters. It came with worry, stress, and deep cleaning.

“I went back home, and I scrubbed the walls and I cleaned up the area because there was smoke damage. You could smell the smoke from inside, even though everything was shut,” Wilson said.

RELATED: Highway 22 reopens through wildfire-ravaged Santiam Canyon; evacuation levels lifted

In the heartbreak of wildfire devastation, the uncertainty of a pandemic and the pressure of parenthood, their community has been there to help.

The Knights of Columbus St. Anthony Council joined forces with Santiam Hospital’s Service Integration Team (SIT) to provide basic needs and assistance to wildfire victims, like Wilson and Martell.

“We came together and realized, we got to help people,” Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Ed Diehl said. “And it has been an outpouring from every corner of the community.”

With donations from the Santiam Wildfire Relief Fund, they created a shop at Anthony Hall where everything comes free to those who need it.

“It’s set up with aisles. You can grab a shopping cart, go down the aisle and you find the goods you need. Everything from clothing to personal hygiene to children’s toys to baby products to food; basically everything we felt families would need getting back on their feet because a lot of these families left with nothing,” Diehl said.

Through SIT there are now three other donation stores for people impacted by wildfires.

“Every day there’s new families that are coming into the store, but there’s also a large number of people that are coming in again,” Diehl said.

SIT’s support goes beyond these items on the shelves.

“It’s just absolutely amazing to see the community pulling together like this,” SIT Coordinator Melissa Baurer said.  

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Baurer works one-on-one with families like Wilson and Martell with everything from rent and utilities to navigating paperwork for assistance.

“With the amount of stress that families are currently going through, I don’t see any other choice but to jump in and walk alongside them and help them through this process,” she said.

Through that one-on-one help, Martell and Wilson say they’ve found more than support. They’ve found a life-long connection.

“They were like our family. They helped us and it was really nice,” Martell said. 

“It’s unbelievable to see how much people can help out when everybody is in need,” Wilson said.

Wilson, Martell and their new baby Marlo are just one of the nearly 600 families these efforts have helped.

They know there is a long road ahead, but the family of three has peace of mind knowing they have a community by their side to help them rise from the ashes.  

“Feeling good about moving forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do as far as reconstruction, and we want to help our community as much as we can, as much as they helped us, because we’ve had a lot of support on our backs and everyone deserves support in this time of need,” Wilson said.  

You can help support families like the Wilson Martells by donating to the Santiam Wildfire Relief Fund