Amidst Wildfires, Community Teams Up to Support Firefighters

A crew of firefighters on break are provided with a breakfast donated from one of the local restaurants. KEVIN BATES/SUBMITTED

Yellow filled the skies, smoke and soot had yet to fall, and the world seemed to turn upside down once again. 

As Firefighters were manning the front line against the 35+ wildfires statewide Symposium Coffee owners Kevin Bates and Jake Pflug, along with manager Becky Elliott, stayed in contact with Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF&R) chaplain Holly Migas. Migas had a simple request: a few pitchers of cold brew coffee for the crew of nearly 100 firefighters manning the line at the Bald Peak fire outside Newberg.

So, just before 6 p.m. on Sept. 10, Bates and Pflug put out a callout on their social media platforms asking the community for treats, water or other purchased goods. While TVF&R had asked the public not to send donations, the Symposium team still felt a need to act.

“TVF&R is so prepared, they’re on top of logistics, they’re on top of meals,” Bates said. “But this kind of thing – having so many fires all around, I couldn’t imagine that anyone was prepared for 100 guys here and 200 other guys there, 400 guys there. I mean it’s just crazy. When we went up to the [Chehalem] site, we noticed that it just needed more.”

After getting a better sense of the landscape, the team posted another call for a 10 p.m. delivery. Migas was hoping for the café’s leftover pastries. What she received was a pickup truck full of goods. Stacks of granola bars, treats, long socks, baby wipes, bottled water, Gatorade and Gold Bond powder filled the truck bed in just a few short hours.

After a small callout on social media and just a few short hours, the Symposium team was able to gather a full truckload of community donations that were sent up to Chehalem. KEVIN BATES/SUBMITTED

“I’ve never fought fires, wildfires or even volunteered before,” Bates said. “But I’ve run marathons and [the crews] were saying, ‘This is like a marathon. Every single day.’ And so that’s probably a 10 to 12,000 calorie intake. The crews depending on three meals a day just wasn’t going to cut it.”

Waking up the next morning, a plethora of notifications greeted the Symposium team. Hundreds of community members from Tigard and Sherwood wanted to help, and these communities also stepped up to the occasion.

A group of Tigard Main Street businesses that included Chris Haedinger from Beach Hut Deli, Steve DeAngelo from DeAngelo’s Catering and Events, Travis Diskin from Curiosities Vintage Mall, Bates and Pflug from Symposium, and Musi Hill from Musi’s on Main, each put out a call for new and purchased goods to be dropped off at either Musi’s on Main or Symposium Coffee.

“I had two maybe three bags of candy and junk food,” Bates said. “But everybody knew to buy high calorie, very dense, super-packed foods. The bars that came in were things like RXBARs and Clif Bars.”

Throughout the day, piles of donations accumulated, filling both Main Street businesses and overwhelming the team until they were forced to put community donations on hold.

At the same time, however, a similar situation was occurring in Sherwood, with Symposium’s Sherwood location organizing the effort and storing everything at the neighboring Vine & Sparrow event center. 

Vine & Sparrow event center in Sherwood was packed full of product donated by the Tigard and Sherwood communities. KEVIN BATES/SUBMITTED

“Stevie DeAngelo shows up with his van and picks up all of this,” Bates said. “Musi also drives a three-quarter-ton truck. By the time we get to Vine & Sparrow in Sherwood to unload, where it’s all going to be staged, that whole place is full.”

Even Symposium’s coffee supplier, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, joined in and donated an endless supply of coffee.

From the event center, which eventually formed its own inventory team, a full truckload went to the Chehalem fire line with two more going to Clackamas. That still left enough for an additional two truckloads.

On the morning of day three, Bates received a text from Migas: everything they delivered was already used up. So, the remaining supplies were sent out to Chehalem the same day.

“All we did is just facilitate and mobilize the community,” Bates said. “And people are thanking us a lot and, you know, honestly, we just made phone calls, drove trucks and loaded stuff. It was the community that literally ran to the stores and ran it to us as fast as possible.”

They weren’t finished, however. TVF&R saw what the teams had accomplished in their organizing efforts and asked for ready-made meals – lots of them.

“[TVF&R Field Office Command] says, ‘We got 100 people on the mountain, so we need about 100-120 meals.’” Bates said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, for lunch?’ They say, ‘Well… breakfast, lunch and dinner.’ So, I had to call our group.”

Restaurants in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood responded by providing hundreds of meals each day until demobilization of the crews on Bald Peak.

Beach Hut Deli, Firenza Pizza, Primo Espresso, Tigardville Station, DeAngelo’s Catering, Izumi’s Steakhouse in Tualatin, Fat Milo’s in Sherwood and Momo Sushi & Grill in Lake Oswego all chipped in to help and provided at least a meal serving upwards of 150 firefighters at a neighboring wildfire.

Once organized, each meal of the day for crews of 150 at the Chehalem line was made and donated by a local restaurant. KEVIN BATES/SUBMITTED

“We would call the restaurants and say ‘Okay, if you were fighting a fire all day, what was you want for dinner?’” Bates said. “That was our filter.”

Steve DeAngelo, owner of DeAngelo’s Catering, also helped with the unexpected logistics that came with the effort. He communicated with restaurants; picked up and delivered food in hot boxes; and mobilized volunteers to help inventory and sort product at Vine & Sparrow.

To say that the efforts made possible by the community were beyond expectation would be an understatement, Bates said.

“I thought we’d get a couple of bags of granola bars and baby wipes,” he said. “The first truckload wasn’t even our expectation, let alone multiple truckloads of food.”

Once the Chehalem fire was contained and crews started demobilizing, relief efforts shifted. Donations were now sent to those made houseless by the fire or to local police departments.

What started as a small Facebook and Instagram callout ultimately erupted into a community-wide movement. Chehalem was taken care of until demobilization on Sept. 14 and Clackamas was helped until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other local communities stepped in. Beach Hut Deli went on to serve more meals in Estacada, with Momo Sushi delivering supplies to the Molalla area.

“The communities really showed that they wanted to take care of these people,” Bates said.

By dusk, some of the firefighters gather for a group photo. KEVIN BATES/SUBMITTED