Donations of new and used goods are pouring into the town of Oso, Wash., after the devastating mudslide two weeks ago; so many items that officials have been asking for cash donations instead.
It’s taking a massive secondary effort to coordinate just how to store and distribute those items to the people who need them.
Outside Oso’s Community Chapel, flowers draped over a white cross are beginning to wilt. But inside the small building, members of the congregation are busy sorting through mounds of goods that have been arriving daily.
“There’s not much I can do, this just makes me feel like I have a little part in what’s going on. A little small part. But it helps me to know that I’m giving some of my time,” said Sandy Dahlman, who lives in Arlington and is usually found working at the hardware store.
Today she’s wrangling huge piles of blankets, pillows, children’s toys and food items; and the stuff just keeps coming.
Stacked nearby are unopened boxes and envelopes that have come in the mail from places like Sequim and Maple Valley, Wash. “It’s amazing. People are really thinking about us,” Dahlman said. “It’s heartening.”
A short time later, Maureen Schuler pulled into the chapel’s gravel parking lot. She’s driven up from Tacoma and her car is packed with shovels, rain gear, soap and brand new boots: Too many things to store at the chapel.
Every day, sometimes twice, a truck arrives to take donated items to be sorted and stored. The majority of it is being driven a dozen miles down the road to an office park across from the Arlington airport.
This nondescript building has become the command post for the Oso mudslide relief effort. Donations are funneled here from all over town.
Shirley Clark is the site coordinator for the Oso Mudslide Relief Community Collections Center. For the moment she’s getting donated items over to an Oso restaurant that’s been feeding the recovery crews and other volunteers.
Clark’s daughter grew up with many of the first responders who are working the recovery effort. She asked Clark to be the site coordinator for 10 days, and Clark agreed.
"I've gone through a lot personally in the last few years and have been strengthened and renewed and gotten my family situations and my kids all grown up, " she said. "About a week before this happened, I was saying to members of my church, 'I think I'm ready, now what's next?'"
Clark has a tough, no-nonsense approach to managing the logistics of the donation effort, the necessity of which becomes apparent as we walk down the hall: She’s got an enormous task ahead of her.
Clark has been carrying around a half-eaten sandwich for half an hour as she gives a tour of one of the donation facilities.
The building’s offices are packed with sorted items from the triage room at the front reception area. There’s raingear, boots, shoes, livestock feed, and half a room filled with boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Next door in an aircraft hangar, more than a dozen mattresses are propped up on the wall.
Clark said families directly impacted by the landslide have only just started asking for help.
“Most of the people I think have had a place to stay because of the massive shock and the emergent need to find their families,” she said. “But it’s starting now, where people are saying I could use some food at my house. All the volunteers out there haven’t even been to work for 10 days.”
The next step she said is managing the flow of goods for the next week, the next month and the next year.