The Red Cross has organized two of its largest emergency evacuation shelters in recent years after the Gray and Oregon fires broke out Friday in Spokane County. And while hundreds of people displaced by wildfires need help from their community, the organization is encouraging cash donations rather than the donation of goods and offers of hands-on help.
It’s the same with Spokane’s community charitable organization, the Innovia Foundation, along with the Salvation Army and Giving Back Spokane, to name just a few of the groups and people offering help.
The Spokesman-Review spoke with leaders of organizations to best relay how community members eager to assist their neighbors can best help everyone, rather than picking an individual effort such as GoFundMe solicitations.
The most effective and practical way to help those affected by the Gray Fire is with monetary donations, said Summer Warfield, disaster program manager with the Spokane chapter of the Red Cross.
Instead of receiving, sorting and distributing donated goods, it is much more efficient for the nonprofit to purchase emergency supplies themselves, according to Warfield.
This ensures an appropriate amount of supplies are going where they need to.
But Warfield said the organization will accept other forms of donations under the right circumstances.
If someone is interested in donating goods, they must call the national Red Cross call center at 1-800-RED-CROSS. After the donor shares what they want to give, the call center will connect with the Spokane chapter to send the goods to the area in the most need.
“The community is very caring, they want to give back and that’s wonderful, but just call in and say, ‘Hey, can we do this for you? Can we offer this?’ ” Warfield said.
Businesses wishing to donate are also encouraged to make the call.
Chick-Fil-A, of Spokane, did.
In cooperation with Red Cross, the fast food chicken restaurant donated dinner to occupants at both Spokane shelters Saturday night.
Those interested in helping in other ways are encouraged to call as well, Warfield said.
For instance, “If someone is calling and has a place for horses and chickens, that’s not really our thing, but then we would know of that resource and could share it with anyone who needs it.”
Joel White, of the Spokane Homebuilders, announced Saturday that ReImagine Medical Lake is in need of generators, propane, volunteers and money.
Plenty of other organizations are offering assistance, too.
Rick Clark’s Giving Back Spokane urged the community to be patient while the popular organization works on what he said could be a collaborative way to offer help to wildfire victims.
Meanwhile, monetary donations are preferred because they can pay for different response efforts.
Donated funds are used to help evacuees and the growing number of volunteers alike.
For the Red Cross, volunteers at the Spokane shelters have arrived from as far as Seattle.
Warfield predicts some to turn up from even further away, which then requires funding.
“We could get volunteers from all over the West Coast, and they need shelter and food, too,” Warfield said. Donations will be used to house the volunteers at “humble” accommodations at local hotels, or to set up a staff-only shelter if needed.
Monetary donations also give the Red Cross the ability to aid evacuees long after the final embers of the Gray Fire have been put out, according to Warfield.
“We’re not going to leave in a week or two, or even when the shelters are gone,” she said.
“These people are going to need help for a long time.”
During the recovery phase, funds can be used as financial assistance for those who have lost their home and as payment for services they need to rebuild, Warfield said.
Innovia announced Saturday the creation of a wildfire response fund.
In partnership with STCU, Washington Trust Bank and others, Innovia will work closely with community partners to get funding to where it is most needed, including directly to individuals, Innovia CEO Shelly O’Quinn said.
“This emergency fund provides resources that will be needed now and in the future as our communities recover,” O’Quinn said.
During the time when fires are still burning and evacuees are seeking help, volunteering opportunities are minimal. It is best to stay safe and out of the way of those who are trained.
This includes the Red Cross. Volunteers working with the public must undergo a weekslong process that includes a background check, coursework and on-the-job training before they are allowed to help.
So after the fire has been extinguished and damage has been assessed, there will be many more opportunities to lend a hand and be ready to help during the next disaster, Warfield said.
“There will be a lot going on in the Medical Lake community and plenty of volunteer opportunities with any number of organizations,” she said.
Until then, those eager to volunteer must be patient.
O’Quinn, whose aunt and uncle lost their Silver Lake home to the fire, knows how hard this may be.
“I know what it feels like to want to go out right now and help, but we can’t,” she said.
The foundation will communicate with local nonprofits to help share volunteer opportunities with the public as they become available.
Those wishing to donate to the wildfire emergency relief fund can do so on Innovia’s company website, at a Washington Trust Bank location or by mailing a check to the Innovia offices at 818 W. Riverside Ave., Suite 650.
Monetary donations to the Red Cross can be made on the organization’s website, on the phone through its national call center or at its Spokane location at 315 W. Nora Ave.