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How a local nonprofit aims to bring Christmas aid to Malden and Pine City residents after fire

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 2, 2020

Shannon Thornton looks into the basement of her burned home Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Malden, Washington the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Shannon and her husband Shawn weren’t home at the time, but their son Cody was and managed to get their dog and a few belongings before leaving just minutes before the flames swept through, destroying their home, garage and multiple vehicles. The Thorntons have been married 22 years.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Shannon Thornton looks into the basement of her burned home Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Malden, Washington the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Shannon and her husband Shawn weren’t home at the time, but their son Cody was and managed to get their dog and a few belongings before leaving just minutes before the flames swept through, destroying their home, garage and multiple vehicles. The Thorntons have been married 22 years. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

After much of their communities burned to the ground in September, the residents of Malden and Pine City didn’t have a typical list of holiday wishes – they had needs.

The Innovia Foundation announced a sponsorship program on Tuesday that aims to help those who lost everything in the fire find holiday cheer and begin anew. It’s dubbed “A Pine Creek Christmas: Celebrating Malden and Pine City.”

The nonprofit is asking members of the community to sponsor one of the dozens of families impacted by the fire, with an estimated budget of $100 per family member. Sponsors can shop from a list and bring wrapped gifts to organizers, or dispatch volunteers to shop on their behalf.

The nonprofit is also soliciting direct cash donations toward the effort.

Organizers have been working with families for several weeks to put together their holiday wish lists, said Shelly O’Quinn, CEO of the Innovia Foundation.

At first, “The overwhelming response was ‘Everything. We have nothing,’ ” O’Quinn recalled.

“The kids were much easier; They were thinking about the toys they had lost and wanted to replace,” O’Quinn said. “For the parents and adults, they really just said ‘We don’t know where to start.’ ”

The families’ humility was “heartwarming,” O’Quinn said.

“None of the families expected it and were quite surprised and overwhelmed by the generosity and compassion of their community,” O’Quinn said.

Innovia won’t provide sponsors with the name of a family, just their wish list and general areas of interest. Family sizes range from a single person to a family of seven.

“We will match you with whatever you’re interested in,” O’Quinn said. “We want people to participate in a way that is meaningful for them.”

The effort is also in need of volunteers to serve as “elves,” shopping for and wrapping gifts.

Any cash left over from the effort will be directed into the Wildfire Recovery Fund to support the communities’ longterm restoration.

“When you’ve lost everything, what you need most is a connection with people who care,” Scott Hokonson, Director of Recovery Operations and Malden resident who lost his home in the fire, said in a statement. “The most valuable resource we have are the partnerships we forge to truly make a difference.”

An estimated 80% of the homes in Malden and 75% in Pine City were lost to the Babb Road fire, which is believed to have started when a tree fell on a power line during a Sept. 7 windstorm.

Carried by winds of up to 50 miles per hour, the fire raced into Whitman County, destroying most everything in its path.

Local support for Malden has become especially important as its residents continue to wait for critical funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Innovia also has funded local journalism and community forum projects in partnership with The Spokesman-Review.

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