As the smoke clears and locals slowly return to their (COVID-era) day-to-day lives, many Central Oregonians remain displaced, distressed and without homes to return to—their lives upturned for the foreseeable future.
As a record-breaking 900,000 acres of Oregon land continued to burn this week, upward of 500,000 people remained under some form of evacuation order.
From the moment news of the fires spread, local business owners banded together to take action. Despite the fact that local restaurants have taken a major hit due to COVID-related restrictions, cafes and eateries like Bellatazza, Joolz, Nancy P's and Terrebonne Depot joined together to serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee.
"As soon as we learned that people needed help, we set to work," explained Stewart Fritchman, owner of downtown Bend coffee shop, Bellatazza. "As a local restaurant community, we all joined together. We all have kitchens, we all have skills, but all of our restaurants have been getting clobbered by COVID. So, by asking for donations and getting funds from the general community, we can get meals made and delivered to those in need."
Bellatazza changed the home page of its website to become a donation page, where individuals could donate between $5 and $100 to go directly to fire refugees. "Donations could be in the form of gift cards; they could potentially go towards providing hot coffee to evacuees at First Presbyterian or providing hot coffee to those coming in from Detroit, coming in without a home. The local restaurant community has been putting together meals that are picked up by the Red Cross and taken to motels."
What began as what Fritchman described as a "guerilla-style operation" has developed into something more widely accessible. The newly created web page, Dine11 Central Oregon, is a central location where people can donate as much as they'd like to feed wildfire evacuees, while helping local restaurants stay afloat.
"Dine11 is a nonprofit website hosted out of the Bay Area," explained Morgan Schmidt, founder of the Facebook group Pandemic Partners Bend, which was developed to help locals affected by COVID-19. "The website was started at the beginning of the pandemic to help support medical workers. Cheryl Howard, program manager, Events & Volunteer Program at City of Bend, suggested we look into it as a way of helping Central Oregonians who were affected by the wildfires. Everyone wants to help so badly, but there hasn't been a central hub for people to do that. We want to be able to give to these folks in an organized fashion."
The Central Oregon branch of Dine11 officially launched Friday. "This is a great way to support and feed evacuees while supporting local restaurants and essential workers," Schmidt said. "I hope this serves as a hub to feed folks who are hungry while supporting local businesses for a long time." People can donate at dine11.org/centraloregon/ or sign up to volunteer. "We currently need volunteers to transport meals from local restaurants to evacuees in hotels or at the [Deschutes County] Fairgrounds," Schmidt concluded.
Fritchman added that the local restaurant community has developed another way to support local while feeding those in need.
"We're asking people to buy gift cards at their favorite restaurants, and then we're taking these gift cards to the hotels where the evacuees are staying. The hotel manager will pick a gift card at random and hand it off to a family so that people can experience some sense of normalcy here in Bend; go out to eat, get a slice of pizza or go out for a cup of coffee. We're waiting to get 105 gift cards, because that's roughly how many evacuees we have staying in Bend. Cards can be dropped off at our downtown location."