At least eight families in the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland, Oregon, have lost their homes to wildfires that continue to rage in Oregon and other western states, said the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, the congregation’s minister.
Almost everyone in the Ashland congregation, which has about 150 members, was forced to evacuate from their homes, Dennison said, but most have since returned home.
At this time it is unknown if other UUs have lost homes due to extensive fires on the West Coast, said Annie Scott, a member of the UUA’s Pacific Western Region Congregational Life staff.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Disaster Relief Fund is collecting donations to assist UU communities and their partner groups affected by the fires and other disasters. The Ashland congregation has already received a grant from the UUA’s Disaster Relief Fund, Dennison said.
Dennison also encouraged UUs to participate in the “Find My Lovey!” project, launched last week by two Ashland congregants to help children who’ve lost stuffed animals, favorite blankets, and other “loveys” to the fires in Jackson County, Oregon. Last week, through word of mouth and social media, “Find My Lovey!” located replicas of a beloved stuffed monkey, “Max,” who was lost in the Ashland fire. “Max,” who is no longer sold in stores, was located in a toy box on the East Coast and in a second location closer to Ashland.
The congregation in Ashland, a small town fifteen miles north of the California border, is also furnishing a house it owns to provide temporary housing for someone in the larger community who lost a home, Dennison said.
The fires are far from contained, and due to pervasive smoke, air quality is very hazardous in many parts of the West, including Portland, Oregon. Many direct-aid systems in Oregon, including food pantries, have temporarily suspended services because the air quality is so bad, said Dana Buhl, social justice director at First Unitarian Portland.
The Portland congregation is supporting its community partners that focus on marginalized communities, which are particularly hard hit by the wildfire crisis, including immigrants, farmworkers, and LGBTQ youth, said the Rev. Tom Disrud, associate minister.
The UUA’s Pacific Western Region staff held two spiritual gatherings via Zoom on Sunday, September 13, for people affected by the fires. The first service, for UU ministers, drew sixteen ministers from western states, including Colorado, which experienced devastating wildfires in 2019. The second service was for anyone and drew 150 people, said Scott.
The regional staff and the UU Trauma Response Ministry have also reached out to UUs in the region to provide support.