Ally Weaver, a traveling nurse from Louisville, Colorado, who is working in Belfast, was horrified last week as her suburban hometown was swept by sudden, destructive wildfires.
Her parents raced to evacuate their Boulder County home before the Marshall Fire came through on Dec. 30.
The fast-moving fire — the most damaging in state history — spared their house, which suffered only heat damage. But nearly 1,000 families who live in the area were not so lucky, as people only had enough time to grab pets and passports before fleeing the path of the flames that devoured their homes.
The fire burned more than 500 homes in Louisville, and an estimated 6,000 acres. At least three people were missing and likely dead as of Saturday, according to the Boulder County sheriff.
“Watching your childhood memories and friends’ houses burn down on national television is hard,” Weaver, 26, said Tuesday. “You feel really helpless.”
But Christine Beguin, her friend and fellow Waldo County General Hospital Emergency Room nurse, had an idea. Thousands of people — including many of Weaver’s friends and family members — had only the clothes on their backs and the vehicles they had evacuated with. They needed everything. What if the two nurses asked around to see if anyone had clothes and toiletries to donate to Colorado?
“Who doesn’t have a trash bag full of stuff that you were going to give to Goodwill but just haven’t had the time yet,” Beguin said. “I just spread it around to a few nurses. I don’t know what happened — it just snowballed.”
The results of their request have been beyond what they ever imagined. Community members who saw the plea on social media or heard it from friends came to the hospital’s front desk to drop off boxes and bags of outerwear, work boots, toiletries, clothes, toys and more.
Stuff from Maine that’s bound for Colorado will fill an entire shipping freight pallet and has overwhelmed Weaver, in the best kind of way. She doesn’t have room to accept more donations, but the offers that continue to come in have touched her heart.
“I’ve cried about 30 times in the last few days,” she said. “It’s just an astounding amount of generosity.”
Beguin, a veteran Navy nurse, has a history of going to the scene of disasters to help.
“I’ve responded to several really bad things, like the 2008 firestorm in California and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan,” she said. “I’m used to helping during dramatic things.”
It made her feel good to do something that would help people in Colorado, even if it’s from a distance.
“It’s reassured me about humanity,” she said.
Right now, Weaver and Beguin are working to figure out exactly how all that stuff will get to Colorado. Weaver’s mother works for a company that has a shipping contract and is able to get them a discount on the cost of moving the pallet.
Once in Colorado, Weaver is making plans to have it distributed to urgent care facilities, local YMCAs, churches and other locations that are accepting donations for the wildfire victims. If people have dropped off money instead of stuff, she is changing dollars into Visa gift cards to hand out.
“It’s unfathomable how much stuff they lost,” she said of her hometown and the other nearby communities wrecked by the fire. “But it has been very heartening to see this generosity. We see a lot of the ugly [in the emergency room]. It’s nice to see the good.”