It is three months since the devastating landslide in Oso, Washington, in which 43 lives were lost, many homes were buried, and a main highway access was blocked. I wrote another blog post about it in April, giving advice on how to donate skillfully to make a difference there. Oso was declared a major disaster area, so Federal and State support came flooding in. Volunteers and private donations also arrived – for both clean-up and to support the survivors. The search and rescue efforts are long over, but the clean-up and rebuilding continue.
Oso has a volunteer fire department and its Chief, Willy Harper is coordinating all of the efforts. He estimates that he spends 50 hours a week, filling out forms, coordinating with FEMA, and going to meetings. He also spends time at the clean-up site, which he says is difficult, “Just the amount of life that was lost here, the families that were torn apart. It’s still pretty raw.” The story of generosity here is about his personal sacrifice, and the way his community is supporting his volunteer work.
Harper’s non-volunteer work is on a local ranch. He has not been back there since the disaster. The ranch owner has been paying his salary nevertheless. And now his fellow firefighters are raising money so that, for a full year, he can continue his work, focus on community needs, and have more time with his wife and two sons.
Chief Harper also receives mail responses to the disaster rebuilding, one thank you letter was from President Obama. Another card was from a friend who lost both a child and her mother in the landslide. He said that one really hits home, “That one was hard to get this morning.” It reads, simply:
“We thank you. We absolutely thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Part of the challenge of disasters like the Oso slide are that once the rescue phase is over, the story is no longer in the news and the wider audience goes on to the next news story, yet a much longer work phase begins. Fire Chief Harper has continued through his own grief, supported by his local community – financially and emotionally. That is generosity in giving and receiving.