Trial by ice: Neighbors, services unite in the face of shared adversity

March 2021 Posted in Community, News
An old oak near St. Edward's Church in Silverton by the February ice storm. Photo courtesy Steve Canning.

An old oak near St. Edward’s Church in Silverton by the February ice storm. Photo courtesy Steve Canning.

By Melissa Wagoner

When residents of the mid-Willamette Valley awoke to a world covered in a beautiful blown glass tapestry of ice on the morning of Feb. 12, they would have been hard pressed to imagine the destruction that would be unleashed only a few hours later. A night of freeing rain replaced the morning quiet with the sound of snapping trees, exploding electrical transformers and arcing power lines that set the evening sky ablaze in a lightning of blue and green.

“We had three trees down from around our house and the roof had got holes in it,” Silvertonian Cassie Tonole said of the damage she discovered upon waking on
Feb. 13.

And she was far from alone. Throughout the region branches, trees, power poles and lines littered the landscape. And then the work began.

“There are so many examples of people just getting to it right now,” Sarah White, Executive Director of Sheltering Silverton, wrote in a Facebook post. “Folks aren’t waiting for permission or mandate to go out and check on their neighbors. They’re just checking on their neighbors, making hot meals, trading generators based on who needs one the most. This is how things should be.”

Indeed, upon first light that Saturday a veritable army of neighbors and friends took to the streets with chainsaws, clippers, wheelbarrows and rakes, cutting, moving and hauling away branches from their own property but also from that of their neighbor.

“I would like to acknowledge Carl Shepard for bringing his chainsaw, Olaf, Anson, and Aiden Bahr for the manpower,” Silvertonian Jennifer Thomas Simmons said of her own experience with neighborly kindness. “My mom lost a tree in her front yard and they came over and cleaned it up some so she could get out of her driveway.”

Stories like that popped up all over town, including the Pioneer area on the south side of Silverton, where over the Presidents’ Day weekend Matt Wiken organized a neighborhood-wide cleanup crew, even recruiting the kids.

“They filled my dad’s dump truck full two times on Monday,” Sarah Kaser Weitzman recalled. “One neighbor was thrilled to come home and see his house cleaned up. The next day he helped me and one of my neighbors fill the dump truck again with our debris… Lots of community kindness this past week.”

So much kindness, in fact, that it would be impossible to list every name and in many cases no names were given. Instead, the work was done and the good Samaritan moved on, no thanks needed.

Such was the story of Anita Scott’s “tree of angels,” the three young women who helped clean up her yard at the Silverton Mobile Estates. Gone so quickly, Scott never even knew their names, she took a picture to prove they existed at all.

“I’m a senior and couldn’t do much,” she said. “I was so thankful.”

Bands of “chainsaw warriors,” so named by Mayor Kyle Palmer, armed to the teeth with garden implements, roved the landscape for days, the buzzing a musical hum. They were soon joined by another kind of citizen team, a quieter bunch, which also canvassed the city, verifying that those without power, heat, and other amenities were doing OK.

“I actually wish I had acted sooner,” Rachel-Anne Rapoza, who organized a whole team of investigators, admitted. “I spent the first couple days after the storm unsure where/how to help. I participate in the Strong Silverton group, and in communicating with one another it became clear there was a need to check in on folks in parts of town who were still without power. My initial response was to agree, ‘Yes, someone needs to check on them.’ Other agencies and individuals were already very busy helping and coordinating, and I slowly realized ‘somebody’ might need to be me.”

Teaming up with SACA, the City of Silverton, Oak Street Church and Sheltering Silverton, Rapoza and a team of volunteers traveled door to door, assessing the needs of each resident and coordinating resources to meet those needs.

“We tried to prioritize areas we had not heard of someone already checking in on,” Rapoza said. “We found a couple folks with some higher needs and were able to coordinate with Sarah at Sheltering Silverton to provide firewood, portable phone chargers and water. Kayla Burdine-Rea picked up meals from Oak Street Church and delivered them.”

A major hub of food distribution, serving over 700 meals during the crisis, Oak Street Church was manned by a team of volunteers including Karyssa and Jason Dow, whose own home had been harmed in the storm, a giant limb slicing through their ceiling.

“Instead of lamenting, they bought a propane grill and 100 hamburgers and set up downtown offering free hot meals to anyone who wanted it,” the Dow’s neighbor, Jennifer Hoffman, said of the many ways the couple volunteered in the aftermath of the storm.

Single mother of three, Christine Teigen also offered food as a means of support. With the help of her daughters, Zoe, Grace and Tennessee, she took to the kitchen, serving up six meals, which she delivered to: “an exhausted mom and dad trying to clean up their property; a mom that lived way out of town without a way to contact family members… Another family with four little kiddos waiting at the door to greet us with huge smiles on their faces,” and, “Another mama just worn out and excited to not worry about one meal.”

And the last two she donated to the Silverton Police Department at the insistence of her daughters who decided they simply must “bless our police.”

Because, as Teigen’s daughters understood, the police department along with other frontline services such as the public works department, the fire department, Roth’s Fresh Market and even the Silver Falls School District, despite the conditions, continued to function, ensuring the needs of the community were met.

“From the first moments that power began to come back up in our buildings, we had staff members assessing the safety of our facilities and the status of our food supplies,” Derek McElfresh, head of the communications department for the Silver Falls School District, said. “Once it was clear we could provide this service, we knew we had to get it going as quickly as possible. Our food service employees were right there with us – we all know the power of a warm meal during tough times.”

No one knows that better than restaurateurs. Which is perhaps why, despite the fact that they have been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic they once again opened their doors to those
in need.

“Anyone still without power, come on down anytime today for some free clam chowder,” the owners of Silver Falls Brewery posted on Facebook on Feb. 17.

Similarly, Fin and Fowl also gave out free soup and coffee, while Graystone Lounge teamed up with the Mainstreet Bistro and the Elks Lodge to bake trays
of lasagna.

“We were sitting at home, sad/bored and cold. Our house/yard is absolutely destroyed. Car smashed,” Graystone Lounge owner Josh Echo-Hawk recalled. “We decided to get up, stop pouting and worrying and help where we could.”

Initially opening as a warming center – allowing the charging of tools, computers and phones, as well as giving out ice and water – the lounge also served food including a bevy of burgers and fries to hungry PGE linemen, largely funded by a grateful community.

“I so appreciate the PGE crews and contractors who’ve been working around the clock to restore power,” Mayor Palmer wrote in a Facebook update. “No city and no utility provider can ever be prepared for an event like this one and PGE has brought in crews from other states and Canada to double their normal workforce.”

That doubling of the workforce meant a lot of workers on the ground and so the Wooden Nickel, Burger Time and Gear Up all pitched in to feed them, often offering the food at no charge.

“Minutes after [Gear Up] got their power on Sunday night they were making donuts and tracking PGE crews down with donut and coffee deliveries,” Liz Schaecher wrote in a post.

It illustrated, yet again, that generosity is alive and well in the community. The past 12 months have featured a pandemic, a dangerous windstorm, a devastating forest fire, and now a shocking ice storm which will leave some without power to their homes for weeks. But people somehow just keep uniting, something Rapoza hopes never stops.

“My hope is that our community will continue to recognize the value and worth of our neighbors, how much we truly need each other and what incredible things we can accomplish when we work alongside one another for the betterment of our neighbors and community,” she stressed.

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