Emergency response grows to embrace fires

PHOTOS: More than 1,100 residences have been destroyed by the wildfires sweeping Oregon, and air quality remains at hazardous levels in the I-5 corridor and the Columbia Gorge.


The smoke and ash enveloping Portland and much of the West Coast has confined many of us to our homes. We are the lucky ones. As of Sept. 11, 500,000 Oregonians were under some level of evacuation notice with more than 40,000 evacuated from their homes. In southern Oregon, at least 27 Jewish families have lost their homes and dozens more have evacuated.

A wildfire relief fund launched by The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland had raised $47,000 by Sept. 15, with an additional $49,000 available from a national grant to meet immediate needs. Already $18,000 has been sent to Temple Emek Shalom/Chabad of Ashland/Havurah Shir Hadash to assist Jewish and non-Jewish families who lost their homes in Phoenix and Talent, near Ashland. To donate to the fund, go to jewishportland.org/2020-wildfires; 100 percent of funds raised will be used to support the Jewish and secular community partnering with a variety of social relief organizations.

Letters accompanying the donations will emphasize the funds are for wildfire relief. The letters will also explain the Jewish community’s drive to support all people in need. As Rabbi Hillel famously said centuries ago, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I?”

JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner said that in talking with nonprofits over the weekend they were surprised by the Jewish community’s desire to aid others. “This is part of what we do,” said Marc, noting such outreach has a positive impact on expanding understanding. “It helps us with our relationships.”

In addition to aiding Jewish families, funds will go to support minority communities that the Federation’s JCRC has been working with. The Native American community will receive $5,000 through the Since Time Immemorial Fund, which is supporting NW Tribes with immediate wildfire relief efforts. Latinx, immigrant and farmworker communities will receive funds through CAUSA and Unete Center for Farm Worker Advocacy, each agency receiving $2,500. Those charities are active around Phoenix and Talent and were recommended by the Ashland rabbis.

To aid firefighters injured fighting the wildfires, $1,800 goes to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Other partner agencies receiving funds are the Red Cross, $15,000; the United Ways of Jackson County, Lane County and Columbia-Willamette, $10,000; Oregon Food Bank, $5,000; and Oregon Humane Society, $1,000. The aid to the Red Cross and Columbia-Willamette United Way will provide aid to those impacted by the Clackamas County fires. This totals $60,800 in allocations.

The Federation also will explore potential need for mental health funds, especially for children displaced by the fires.

Having ramped up its Emergency Aid Program to assist families impacted by COVID-19, Jewish Family & Child Service is well positioned to provide financial assistance to those fleeing the wildfires.

Similarly, the Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland is extending the emergency $1,000 interest-free loans created for COVID to those impacted by the fires.

JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner has been in touch with Jewish communities across the state to assess needs. He urges everyone to let Federation know about people who have been evacuated or lost their homes. You can contact him at marc@jewishportland.org.

Many families in the Jewish community have expressed interest in opening their homes or properties they own to help anyone who has evacuated.

Fires around Oregon could become the deadliest, costliest in state history. A Sept. 14 state of Oregon press release reported wildfires have burned approximately 1 million acres. There are 10 confirmed fatalities and 22 missing persons.


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