Rosalia residents have stepped up to help those displaced by the Sept. 7 brush fire that decimated the neighboring communities of Malden and Pine City in northern Whitman County.
The Rosalia Community Center and three churches in town have been transformed into meal distribution centers and storehouses for donated goods, and volunteers say they plan to use a relief fund to provide gift cards and cash assistance to those in need.
Cameron Atchison, the son of the pastor at Harvest Assembly of God Church, said donations of clothes, toiletries, tools, food, pet food and other necessities have come from Rosalia residents and businesses, neighboring towns including St. John and Tekoa, and bigger cities including Pullman, Spokane, Kennewick and Olympia.
Families displaced from Malden, which counted about 200 residents before the fire, and the unincorporated community of Pine City have trickled in to gather supplies. Usually they take only a few things at a time, Atchison said, because many lost their homes and have little space to store belongings.
Atchison and several other volunteers said they plan to continue storing and distributing donated goods for weeks or even months, if necessary.
“We’re here for the long haul,” he said.
Rosalia, which sits along U.S. Highway 195 and counts about 560 residents, is where many Malden and Pine City residents have done their grocery shopping and sent their children to school. Now many are displaced. A few have found temporary lodging in homes and churches in Rosalia.
“These are our friends and family. We need to help out,” said Andre Lamoureux, a parishioner at Harvest Assembly of God. “It’s what the Lord calls us to do.”
The mayor of Malden said last week only 27 of the roughly 130 homes in town were still standing after the fire, which started along Babb Road just over the Spokane County line before racing toward the southeast. Few in Malden had home insurance.
At the community center, Rosalia resident Diane Nebel said volunteers have been “inundated” with donations of clothes, but they are short on winter gear including coats, boots and gloves.
Nebel said some Malden residents will need donated hand tools to clear rubble and rebuild or repair their homes. The United Way delivered a shipment of tools to Malden this week, she said.
Lamoureux said displaced students are in need of school supplies, including thumb drives, compasses and protractors.
Members of the Rosalia Lions Club and Gifted Grannies, a nonprofit thrift store in Rosalia that provides grants to other local organizations in need, have coordinated much of the local relief effort. The American Red Cross, Second Harvest and the United Way also have provided assistance.
Since early last week, Lori Furman, a retired nonprofit worker who moved to Rosalia about a year ago, has been tracking donations and expenditures on spreadsheets in a room of the community center that volunteers call the “command center.”
Linda Pritchett, who lives on Babb Road and nearly evacuated her family when she spotted smoke last week, has taken time off her job as a dental assistant in Spokane in order to help lead the effort.
They have set up a Babb Road Fire Relief Fund through First Interstate Bank to provide cash and gift cards to Malden and Pine City residents. Donations can be mailed to the bank at P.O. Box 364, Rosalia, WA 99170.
William McBride, who lived in Malden for about seven years, is among the displaced. He recalled looking outside at a hazy gray sky shortly after the fire started and warning his fiancee and elderly mother to get ready to leave. Ten minutes later, he said, the sky was nearly black with smoke, and the fire was dangerously close.
They loaded their pet cats into crates, grabbed some family photos from the walls and fled, he said. Their house was incinerated. They didn’t have insurance.
McBride said he appreciates all the help he has received from neighbors in Rosalia over the past week.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “The community has really been real supportive.”
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