The Oroville Dam Tests Community

By Elisabeth Stewart

The second Monday of the month is one of my volunteer days.   I was standing at my duty station, behind the cash register.  Ordinarily, when I’m working, I don’t answer my personal phone.   My cell chimed, I noticed the caller was Deacon Lew.   I answered.

“Hello, Lew.  What can I do for you?”
“We have guests here at the Parish Life Center with babies.  They had to leave their houses in Oroville so fast, they didn’t get a chance to pack extra clothes.  Right now, I’m looking for baby clothes for a couple of families.”

“Lew, I’m working at the Discovery Shoppe, and we have clothes here priced very reasonably. If you are interested, I’ll have the helpers gather a bunch.”  He was.  We clarified sizes and shop location.   I pressed the red-phone dot on the face of the cell phone.   I expected Lew to show up in a few minutes.

The helpers, Mary and Lois, were standing nearby, “What’s going on Liz?”  they asked me.  I told them we needed to gather baby clothes for some evacuee families with babies.  The helpers grabbed baskets and headed back to the children’s section of the shop to pull the needed sizes.

A customer looking at shirts came to the cashier desk and handed me a five-dollar bill.  “This is towards the baby clothes they need.”  I thanked her and laid aside the five.   I could hear Mary and Lois excitedly talking about the items they were finding.   In a few minutes, another customer handed me a five for baby clothes.  Soon the two helpers handed me money, and I dug into my wallet.

As long as we’re at it I may as well check to see if I can ring these up at half price.   I walked back to the manager’s room while Mary monitored my cash register.  “I have someone coming in for baby clothes for a couple of evacuee families.  Can I sell them half price?”

“Absolutely!” the manager replied.

Lew arrived.  Mary and Lois went through their possibles and Lew said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each Item, and in no time, he said he had what he needed.   I rang up the stack of clothes.   Lois found a tote bag of the right size and Mary folded and packed.  Lew reached for his wallet.

“Lew, the people in the shop collected a handful of money.  There is enough to pay the bill and some extra for diapers perhaps…. or whatever people at the shelter need. “

Lew looked around the shop and people were nodding encouragement as he repositioned his wallet.  He gratefully took up his package and change and headed back to the evacuation center at our church.

I felt so proud of our church for hosting evacuees and thinking of them as guests, for Lew and other church members who stepped up to help, and for the shoppers and workers who saw a need and filled it quietly with happy hearts.   I believe this small event is just a tiny example of how community folks behaved for the hours that people were displaced from their homes and in our care.