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‘Every little bit counts.’ Pop-up resource center serves Rogue Valley fire victims one year later

Erik Neumann/JPR
Marc Rosewood carries a bag of groceries at Living Waters Church during a pop-up resource center for fire victims on Saturday.

September marked a year since the Almeda Fire and South Obenchain Fire devastated communities in the Rogue Valley. But the rebuilding process has been slow and many fire victims still need support. On Saturday, the non-profits Rogue Climate and Rogue Action Center held a pop-up resource center for fire victims in Medford.

Plastic tubs were filled with loaves of bread and folding tables were stacked with canned soup and shampoo bottles as people cycled through a tall garage at Living Waters Church.

Maria Melendez lost her trailer at the Medford Estates in Phoenix. Her family had lived there for 11 years. The five of them lived for several months crammed into an RV, but eventually moved to White City. She visited Saturday’s pop-up event for a few bags of groceries.

“Every little bit counts,” Melendez said. "Right now, for people who are struggling and probably don’t have a job or they can’t find something, every little money helps."

Marc Rosewood was at the church too. Fire marshals told him to evacuate from his Phoenix home on September 8, 2020. He also lost his house and everything in it.

“If I’m thinking of, like, guerilla, down-home helpful things, other than the emotional support is having these. Having the ability to save money by not buying staples,” Rosewood said.

Seven months later he found a rental in Ashland. Unlikely as it is, he says, fire victims would benefit most from housing or financial assistance.

Erik Neumann/JPR
Fire victims at a pop-up resource center hosted by the non-profits Rogue Climate and Rogue Action Center.

More than a year since the Labor Day fires, the need for help is still clear in the Rogue Valley. Some visitors to Saturday’s pop-up event are still living in nearby hotels. Others are slowly rebuilding their homes.

“This is all good; this is all helpful to folks in the immediate, but folks obviously need longer-term assistance,” said Adriana Sanchez, a community organizer with Rogue Action Center. “This doesn’t change the fact that people are on the brink of eviction.”

Sitting at a folding table beside a large tri-fold poster board, Sanchez was helping visitors sign up for resources like emergency rental assistance. Events like this are a way to stay in contact with fire survivors, she said.

“This helps us maintain those community ties. And it builds new relationships with people that maybe we hadn’t reached before,” she said.

Organizers say they served over 300 people during Saturday’s event. They plan to continue hosting pop-up events throughout the community’s slow recovery.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.