WOE provides relief for fire evacuees

Western Oregon Expo has been amassing a building full of donated items for victims of the recent wildfires.

For victims of the wildfires, Western Oregon Expo (WOE) in Cottage Grove is offering aid to humans and animals alike.

“We don’t just have stuff to give people, we also have a safe space for people to come to,” said Skye Hefner, office manager at the fairgrounds. “We have space for people and their animals.”

As donations pour in, sometimes by the trailer load, piles of donations are amassing and volunteers are eager to distribute to those in need.

“The response has been overwhelming with people and their donations coming in,” said Hefner.

On Monday, a car-hauling trailer arrived from Utah, packed to its ceiling with items for evacuees.

Clothing of all sizes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, bedding and books are among the many items continuing to pile up in a 60 x 60 building on the fairgrounds.

“We have creature comforts along with the necessities,” said Hefner.

With piles of donations accruing, Hefner is eager to let victims of the fires know there is aid available.

“We definitely need to get the word out that we’re here to help people,” she said.

Besides the piles of items available, WOE is also offering temporary space for people to stay.

“We have this huge property that we could put people on even if its in a tent,” said Hefner. “That’s better than being on the street or in a car. … It’s a safe place to be.”

With about 42 RV hook-ups on the 7-acre site, water and electric can be provided. While there is no sewer service, the Cottage Grove Wastewater Treatment Plant just down the street from the WOE accepts dumps for a small fee.

People seeking tents can be accomodated as well.

“If they need a tent, we will work on getting them a tent and we will help them out as much as we possibly can,” said Hefner.

Though sympathetic to the challenges facing the homeless community, Hefner added that the organization is not equipped to take them on.

“It sounds horrible to say our homeless population can’t come in here,” she said. “It’s because they tend to want to stay longer than what we’re able to offer. We’re not a place to house for long-term.”

Also, because of the nonprofit’s difficulty in meeting overhead, the group is limiting evacuees to two weeks of stay.

“The first week we’re going to let them stay for free,” said Hefner. “The second week there’s going to be a minimal charge.”

Hefner said the charge would be $5 or $10.

“We’re not trying to break anybody’s bank,” she said.

Hefner said she had been through the grief of a house fire and the stress of having to find shelter, food and clothes herself.

“So I 100 percent feel for all these people who have lost their houses and it’s horrible. I know how they’re feeling,” she said. “This is a temporary safe place that they can come to. A lot of them have lost everything.”

Hefner said three families have been provided relief so far, but there is space for many more to be helped.

WOE is also uniquely set up to provide space and comfort for animals. 

The nonprofit has dedicated one of its barns to house furry friends.

On Monday, rows of empty cages and pens were prepared to take in evacuee animals.

“We’re definitely more set up for the small animals,” said Hefner, but added the site has a coral for horses if needed.

One evacuee brought about 30 animals, Hefner recalled. Goats, sheep, dogs and a mini-horse have already called the fairgrounds home since the crisis started.

During its festivals, the fairground typically can pack hundreds of animals, Hefner said.

“So we can handle a lot of animals,” she said, encouraging people to bring their pets if they need respite.

Another of WOE’s barns is packed with piles of hay and other feed for a variety of animals.

“We have feed for all animals,” said Hefner. “For cats, dogs, horses, sheep, whatever.”

And still, dozens of tons of more feed are expected to come in.

Once the current crisis has calmed down, Hefner plans to open up many of the collected donations to others in need.

“I’m sure there’s going to be enough that we can help anybody,” she said. “But right now we do need to hold it for fire evacuees.”

Those in need of items or interested in making a donation can drop by the fairgrounds at 2000 N. Douglas Ave. from noon to 5 p.m. any day of the week. Outside of those hours, appointments can be made by calling 541-942-6150.

For animal feed, appointments must be made by calling 541-731-5741 or 913-218-9485.

In addition to WOE, several other resources are offering aid in the community. The following groups and services are among those available:

ROP/Family Resource Center, 632 E Main St., Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursdays 4 to 6 p.m.

Food, diapers, clothing, pet food, hygiene products, vitamins, tents, bedding and more.

Looking Glass Rural Program, 508 E. Whiteaker Ave., Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For youth ages 11 to 21: Food, basic needs and other supports

Community Sharing, 1140 Birch Ave., Mondays 1:30 to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Food, basic needs, housing and utility support, transportation and laundry services

South Valley Resource Alliance, 632 E. Main St., first and third Friday of each month, 4 to 6 p.m.

Drive-up food boxes

Soup’s On, 632 E. Main St., Sundays, 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Walk-up meals to go

Trinity Lutheran Church, 675 S. Seventh St., Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5 to 6:15 p.m.

Walk-up meals to go

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