Cassidy and Bailey Olson have been through their share of ups and downs, but nothing could have prepared the sisters for the night flames ripped through their home. They lost everything in one of Oregon’s most devastating wildfires.
When they returned two days later, all that remained were ashes and memories of the times they shared in their childhood home. They couldn’t believe their eyes.
“It's getting easier, but when I first came, I was in shock and kind of denying the fact that I lost everything,” Bailey said.
“I lived here since I was practically born,” Cassidy said. “So, it's kind of hard. There are rough days, but you just have to think of the future.”
The September wildfires destroyed 1.2 million acres and more than 4,000 homes, including the one Cassidy and Bailey shared with their grandmother in the Mill City community. They are now living in a rental home, while determining next steps.
The Olson sisters are students in the Santiam Canyon School District, which serves 510 students. About 70 students and staff lost their homes in the wildfires. Beyond the challenges of starting over, students are also struggling to access the internet for virtual learning, purchase new clothing and replace other essentials they lost in the fires.
“In the days after the wildfire, several people reached out to donate to our students, which led to the creation of the Wildfire Needy Kids Fund,” said Angela Rasmussen, the principal of Santiam Jr./Sr. High School. “We have to remember that our kids are still teenagers. They lost everything that makes them a kid. The Needy Kids Fund is helping to fill that void.”
UnitedHealthcare donated $25,000 to the Wildfire Needy Kids Fund. The donation will help students with technological needs for virtual learning and replace clothes and other personal belongings.
“The Needy Kids Fund is showing me that even though I lost everything, there still is something,” Cassidy said. “There's hope. It’s amazing and I couldn't be more grateful.”
For Gary Daniels, UnitedHealthcare CEO of Oregon and Washington, the donation hits home. Growing up in the community, he said he’s incredibly proud to see firsthand how the company is able to help others in their time of need. In addition to supporting the Wildfire Needy Kids Fund, UnitedHealthcare provided hundreds of meals to families when they were forced to evacuate their homes.
“It was great to get back to my roots and support this proud community that is important to so many Oregonians,” he said. “At UnitedHealthcare it’s in our DNA to serve our communities in real time moments of anguish, such as this fire. I’m proud that our team acted in the moment, reached out and supported the people who need it the most.”
Students say the help they’ve received has made a world of difference.
“It’s greatly appreciated,” Bailey said. “We probably wouldn't be as far as we are without the support and the help from everyone in the community.”
If you would like to contribute to the Wildfire Needy Kids Fund, donations should be mailed to the following address: Santiam Jr/Sr High School, P.O. Box 199, Mill City, OR 97360. Please write “Wildfire Needy Kids Fund” in the memo line. You can also click here to make an online donation or contact the school district by calling 503-897-2311.