With One Question, Red Cross Volunteers Help Comfort Oregon Family Impacted by Wildfires

Story by Lynette Nyman / Red Cross Cascades Region

In non-pandemic times, I’d get to hold and play with baby Shiloh.

I’d make baby sounds, play peek-a-boo and generally make a big fuss over him. It’s my chance as a Red Cross volunteer to give mom just a few moments to catch her breath and ask any questions she may have.

Alas, in today’s COVID-19 world, we could only gaze upon each other at a distance. However, the best news is that he’s doing much better these days.  

Shiloh with his mom, Mary, talking with Red Cross volunteers at the
Red Cross shelter at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon on Sept. 17, 2020. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross.

His mom and dad were terrified for his life (he was having trouble breathing) as they fled the Santiam Canyon wildfires in Oregon. Initially, they were able to stay at a friend’s house, then a tent until finally being able to rest in a hotel room provided by the American Red Cross.

“The generosity of everyone has made me really think about how we can give back to our community,” said Shiloh’s mom Mary. 

The hotel shelter came about as Red Cross volunteers Susan and Ellen, both on their first deployments and from the east coast, found Shiloh and his parents while checking on people as they went tent to tent at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem.  

“Do you have everything you need?” Susan and Ellen asked at the tent where Mary, Dustin and Shiloh were living, because they were afraid to ask for help. They also didn’t expect any help, especially from strangers.  

“It’s the slightest things really make a difference,” says Susan. 

Shiloh with his parents, Dustin and Mary, at the
Red Cross shelter at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon on Sept. 17, 2020. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross.

During our visit, Mary shared more of her personal story with me, which helped to explain her reluctance to engage with the Red Cross.

She said she grew up mostly as a ward of the state and was later adopted by her foster parents. Mary said it was those parents who helped provide stability in her life. But even many years later, relying on the help of strangers, has never been a comfortable feeling.

“We decided as a family that we needed resources,” Mary said. “We put our fears aside.” 

The generosity of the Red Cross and its volunteers as well as local community donations brings Dustin and Mary to tears. “It’s really taken a lot of worry off of us.”  

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that a simple financial donation can have such a significant impact on someone’s life. But it’s through the generous spirit of Oregonian’s that the Red Cross has been able to provide that comfort and hope to families, just like Shiloh’s.

Visit redcross.org/donate if you’d like to help support the American Red Cross.

Watch more of Mary and Dustin’s story in this video.