During fall 2020 it seemed like much of the West was on fire.
When a ferocious wildfire started near Ashland, Ore., glass artist Lacey Walton, better known as LaceFace Glass online, said she could see a cloud of smoke the size of a city block from her home. She rounded up her child and dogs and got out of town.
“I was really afraid and drove to my grandparent’s house,” she said.
Walton’s home was spared when the wind took the fire the opposite direction up the Interstate 5 corridor to the tiny towns of Talent and Phoenix. But she knew of about 10 fellow glassblowers along the route who lost their studios, homes or both.
Federal aid has been slow to non-existent, so Walton and other cannabis industry folks throughout the Northwest began organizing and raising money to help the victims.
Glass artist Tyler Bowman, who lives in Spokane Valley, grew up in the Talent/Phoenix area. A friend owns a hemp farm in the area told Bowman that 35 Hispanic workers he employed lost their homes.
With $2,500 of his own money matched by that same amount from a former business partner, plus other donations, Bowman was able to raise $10,000 for those who lost everything.
Walton has been a glass artist for 17 years and is well-known in the Northwest glass pipe community. With 50,000 Instagram followers, she knew she could leverage that following to help some of her industry friends who had their livelihood obliterated by the fire.
She and her husband launched a GoFundMe page and raised an astonishing $100,000. She started off by auctioning off one of her own pieces for $5,000. From there, the fundraising went viral with glass artists and others in the cannabis industry all over the country auctioning off art or making donations.
Walton said that between 380 and 400 pieces by various artists were sold in the auction.
“In the aftermath it was, ‘How can I help my community?’” Walton said. “It was a really beautiful thing, a really positive, uplifting experience.”
She distributed $10,000 to $15,000 to 30 individuals and families who are glass artists that so they could get back to work. Half of the $100,000 went to five glass artists who lost absolutely everything. The balance was prioritized to other glassblowers; a friend who managed a grow store who lost his home of 20 years; and others in the cannabis industry.
Another friend who had a hemp farm offered to drive supplies to families in need. Walton said thousands in the area had to be evacuated. She described the experience as traumatizing.
Bowman said another hemp farmer delivered aid to displaced workers who weren’t getting any aid. He said a week after the fires, he went to the area and saw no state presence. About 12,000 people in Talent/Phoenix lost everything. The direct action group Rise and Resist’s Oregon chapter jumped in to help as well.
“I just did what I could,” Bowman said, adding that the glass community will continue to do food drives throughout the year.
Matthew Friedlander, a cannabis processor in Mt. Vernon, allocated 10 percent of retail sales of Skagit Organic Products in November 2020 to assist efforts in Washington. The money will go to help the people of Malden and the Okanogan area.
All funds are being managed by United Way of Whitman County and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington with fund raising continuing. At this point the effort has raised $4,000.
Friedlander organized his efforts through his other brand, Smoke Local, with plans to secure non-profit status for the organization. He said it will be a very hyperlocal charity with the goal of highlighting the impact of the local cannabis industry on local community efforts. Friedlander said Smoke Local will be a community engagement group, with Skagit Organics focusing and serving the medical community.
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