CalDART and Direct Relief partner to deliver masks, medical kits to Oregon fire victims
While the pandemic remains on the forefront of people’s minds, here on the West Coast, wildfires continue to pose a dangerous threat.
Whether it be from breathing in the air that has been filled with smoke the last few weeks or the devastation caused from the fires themselves, help continues to be a need in these trying times.
Filling that need on Saturday was the California Pilots Association Disaster Area Response Team and Direct Relief.
The two combined to successfully organize an event in which 23 pilots flew their private aircrafts out of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and delivered 100,000 KN95 respirators from Direct Relief’s humanitarian distribution center to residents and firefighters in Oregon’s worst-hit fire zones.
In addition to the KN95 masks, pilots also delivered wildfire kits, which can treat up to 750 people which include inhalers, antibiotics, irrigation solutions, personal protective equipment for front line workers and more.
“I am so thankful to CalDART and their members who pulled off a kind of amazing logistics feat (by) arranging pilots at their own time and expense to mobilize so we can send 100,000 KN95 respirators and thousands of units of treatment for people who are experiencing health difficulties because of the fires and do it today,” Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, told the News-Press.
“We are delighted to be able to do it, but it is heartbreaking for anyone in California who has seen what families and people in communities go through when these fires rip through them.”
The masks and PPE are especially important because of the poor air quality in some parts of Oregon. Conditions have improved due to some local rainfall, but the help is still needed and appreciated.
“I think the risks caused by COVID and by wildfires have joined and compounded to make both worse, so masks are a good example. N-95 masks have been chronically short since COVID broke out but they are recommended items for people with respiratory issues from the wildfire smoke,” Mr. Tighe explained.
“So, I think, trying to work with the public health officials in the response and mobilizing private resources and making sure they’re putting those things in the right hands and use them for the right reasons is difficult.”
Getting those resources to Eugene, Oregon, was made easier, however, thanks to CalDART.
Volunteer pilots began loading their planes as early as 8 a.m. and continued until around 2 p.m. when all planes had left.
“It was a lot of work. In a logistics organization you have to get all the details straight. We have today 23 pilots with things to fly and we had another 40 or 50 that were talking to us hoping that they could fly so there’s a lot of details to arrange,” Paul Marshall, President of CalDART, told the News-Press.
Mr. Marshall said he was first presented with this opportunity to help out earlier this week. He said he received a call from a pair of Direct Relief staffers.
“They heard about CalDART and they said they had a big need. They weren’t sure when it was but it was big and happening fast and then they asked if we could help getting stuff from Santa Barbara to Eugene, Oregon,” he said.
According to Mr. Marshall, of the 54,000 pilots in California, CalDART has close connections with over 200 pilots and, usually, if they send out information about an opportunity to help, those pilots can contact others.
As a result, people with all types of personal planes, whether they be small and compact or big and plentiful, lent a huge hand.
“It is all helpful and we gave them all something to fly and sent them off,” Mr. Marshall said.
“The volunteers are so excited, we are a volunteer organization so people want to help in a time of need. Everybody sees this is one of the worst years we’ve ever had and people are so glad that there’s something tangible they can do to help out.”
CalDART has existed for about two years as a corporation but it has been going for about 11 years and Mr. Marshall has been along for the ride.
This year in particular, he said they have been providing a lot of COVID-19 relief.
“It’s a weekly thing, we have been donating face shields and also got involved helping take a public domain, automatic bag valve ventilators, we are helping a builder build it and getting it out to people who could use it, so five of those are in Mexico right now that we have distributed,” he said.
Receiving the supplies on the other end in Eugene will be local volunteers from Reach Out WorldWide, an organization which has close ties to Direct Relief and Santa Barbara.
Reach Out WorldWide is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2010 by Paul Walker, a longtime Mesa resident and former “Fast and Furious” star. Mr. Walker died in late 2013 following a tragic car crash.
Reach Out WorldWide is now run by his brother, Cody, who was very appreciative of the help received on Saturday.
“Having lived in Oregon and having so many friends and ROWW volunteers up there directly affected by this fire, it’s really personal for us to be able to help out,” Cody said in a press release.
“Especially the rural communities — they’re strong and they’re resilient — but right now they need help. Huge thanks to Direct Relief for answering this plea and assisting ROWW in a big way to get critical supplies to those who need it now.”
For Mr. Tighe, being able to provide assistance is always special.
“We need more of this these days. Bad news is very easy to find,” he said.
“But this is a good reminder that there’s so many great people who want to help each other out and today’s a perfect expression of that, with a terrific group of pilots using their aircraft, so we’re quite honored and quite inspired by what the pilots have done.”
Santa Barbara is also no stranger to the danger of wildfires.
The Thomas Fire in December 2017 caused a lot of destruction locally and led to the Montecito mudslides in January 2018 which led to the deaths of over 20 civilians.
“It adds extra meaning, because your heart breaks for these people. It’s deeply upsetting to go through, it’s deeply upsetting to see other people have to go through it, but it’s very good to try to help them and let them know that there are a lot of people who are pulling for them,” Mr. Tighe said.
“Doing whatever they can that counts for a lot in these tough times when you know that someone else is concerned and doing something on your behalf.”