MEDFORD, Ore.- United Rotary club’s local fire relief efforts have provided funding to more than 150 small businesses so far. As their efforts wrap up, they are personally handing checks to small business owners who lost so much to the Almeda Fire just over a year ago.
Everyone has a story of how they remember September 8, 2020.
“Initially I see these plumes of smoke and I’m going ‘Oh that won’t be a problem, they’ll take care of that before it gets bigger.’ But then the plumes kept getting bigger. And redder. And I was like ‘Oh… They’re on their way,” explained Nicholas Walsch, owner of local small business NDW Services. He and his family got ahead of the flames by fleeing to the Applegate.
His house survived but others in his life weren’t so lucky.
“My mother-in-law lost her house, my aunt lost her house, and our business was gone,” Walsch said.
He had just expanded his business, NDW Services, to a physical space on Highway 99 but couldn’t even think about rebuilding it.
“It didn’t even really occur to me to start a GoFundMe or anything like, because there were people I needed to help, GoFundMe’s I needed to contribute to,” he said, explaining he felt a sort of guilt focusing on the recovery his business while others struggled. Just over a year later, Rotary Club’s fire relief efforts are helping get his business back in operation.
But, as many Rogue Valley residents know, some didn’t escape the fire.
“I was a one man shop, a print shop, and I had everything set up in my home,” said George Mejia. His print business of 25 years was destroyed with his home- with it went his entire portfolio of work from over the years, as well as all the equipment and tools he had gathered over that time.
“All I heard was on the outside banging on my unit “Get out get out get out!”” he said of the day of the Almeda Fire. With the Rotary funding, he can get a new printer and start to work again.
“I want to rebuild, I want to start again. I still have great clients that hopefully are also starting off again,” he said.
For a over a year, Rotary has been helping small businesses do just that.
The efforts started just days after the fire, and quickly picked up, with $370,000 raised to date.
“We had Rotarians going around talking to folks about what it would take get 100 percent back in business and then the money kept coming in!,” explained Medford Rogue Rotary Member, Paul Christy.
Rotary expanded from personally buying and replacing tools, to giving funds straight to small businesses.
“That’s the rotary way. We want to help individuals and not fund entities,” Christy said.
At the end of this month, United Rotary says it will have about $108,000 dollars left with the goal to distribute all of it by the end of October.
Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl.
Though she loved Miami’s beaches, she’s thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it’s the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.