Disaster Can Bring Out the Best of a Community

Written by Isabel Anderson – Red Cross Communications Manager Cascades Region

The Darlene 3 Fire in Deschutes County forced families to evacuate their homes and in response the Red Cross set up a shelter in the La Pine High School gym. While the shelter was open, we provided over 120 overnight stays and served over 300 meals.

Courtesy of Central Oregon Daily.

At this shelter we met a woman helping the children of evacuees in a unique and fun way: face painting. Mary Oldham is the cheer coach at La Pine High School and upon hearing about the start of the fire, Mary jumped into action and messaged the principal of La Pine High School to see how she could help. Mary set up her face painting station to one side as kids lined up to have their faces painted. Mary and the principal joked, “we may have created a monster because they’ll be thinking ‘when are we going to get evacuated again so we can go face paint?’”  

Mary knows from personal experience how scary these disasters can be for kids: her husband is a Marine, and when they were stationed at camp Pendleton, they were evacuated early in the morning. Her kids were scared and stressed, which made both parents stressed and there weren’t resources provided to keep the kids entertained and to lower the levels of stress.  

Mary explained, “I wanted to create a fun environment for children coming in because I didn’t want them to be scared because it is a scary time and parent’s emotions are high, their stress levels are high therefore it can create trauma not only in the parents but in the kids.” She went on to explain the mental impacts of disasters: “we’ve learned through research and working through in the high school, traumatic events affect their brains and how they develop and with so many small children in our community I wanted to make sure that I took one less scary factor away from it.”  

Courtesy of Mary Oldham.

Not only did Mary help the kids of the community but she reached out a gracious hand to other community members. “There was an elderly gentleman named Smoky whom I got extremely attached to. He is diabetic and by himself and knowing that when I left, the Red Cross was there to take care of him was really nice,” said Mary.  

She explained that there are people in La Pine that have experienced disaster before.  

“We have a lot of the victims of the Paradise fire in our community and so that adds trauma on top of it so having a constant for those families is really good. Knowing that the Red Cross came in and set up their cots and got food going and had water for them, that was really inspiring to see that it was in our community”. 

It’s moments like these when we recognize that there is a silver living when disaster strikes: the community is brought together and the strength and kindness living within the community is highlighted.

To learn more about how you can volunteer or donate to the Red Cross go to redcross.org.