By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY – Staff Writer
When the storms began in February, many businesses were closed for many days that ended up becoming weeks. For example, Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe in Top Town Crestline finally reopened on April 1 after being closed since Feb. 22, missing the entire month of March for sales.
That is an example of the impact many businesses are suffering on this mountaintop, even if the building itself wasn’t totally destroyed or even temporarily red tagged, such as Jensen’s Market in Blue Jay, the entire Blue Jay Mall, Goodwin’s Market, Akasha, Linder’s Tires and others. The loss of sales may lead many other businesses to fail this spring and summer, as many small businesses up here rely on a steady cash flow for keeping their doors open and paying their bills. Some of those hourly employees also lost income from not being able to work. This income interruption is a major concern for businesses in the mountain communities.
This means those who own those businesses or who work in them also have shortfall in income and some are suffering an inability to pay their bills, putting many behind in their accounts. This issue is now coming to roost as billing companies are calling and asking for payments. Many of those late payments were a result of the closed post offices in the various communities and no mail service for several weeks, making bills arrive late.
Some residents immediately took advantage of the food banks and giveaways when the big relief agencies like G.E.M. (Global Empowerment Mission) arrived in town to help. They set up across the street from the collapsed Goodwin’s Market in the north shore parking lot of Lake Gregory to fill the gap, since many residents had been snowed in for over a week, had no Crestline market to shop at and many roads were still not easily passable. G.E.M. had fresh produce, along with boxes of daily staples, canned and dry food items and paper goods, as toilet paper again was a scare commodity after two weeks of being snowed in.
Many residents were still snowed into their homes and couldn’t get out to take advantage of those offerings as the roads were still either not plowed or only one lane wide with six-foot-tall berms on each side of the road. Then the county brought in some relief centers to the libraries and schools, where the evacuation centers had been located. Many closed at the end of March, leaving those in need to visit the previously established food banks, including Operation Provider, the Top Town monthly food distributions and some church food banks. Hearts & Lives will be giving away produce on Monday, April 10. They are trying to make this a two-times a month event but need additional volunteers to keep this going.
During the storms, it seemed that the best help came from neighbors helping neighbors, as various parts of the mountain were separated by severe weather, non-plowed roads and a lack of communication. The county-trained C.E.R.T. volunteers were never called into action.
In Valley of Enchantment, there were many who were not able to get out of the area, due to one-lane-wide, narrowly plowed roads and several collapsed homes. Kim Kuhm got together a group of locals, who stopped their jobs to volunteer and opened a food and supply distribution center, even before the roads were fully open. First, it was located at the VOE fire station, but that building was flooding, so she is now located in a ground floor storage unit at Mountain Storage. Distribution of items, from canned foods to boxed and staples, is on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through at least May 27. She is hoping to add a weekend day, depending on volunteer availability.
Kuhm hopes to continue distributions for the next six months. She sees a definite need in the VOE area. She has received many private donations and has canned food, paper goods and dried goods. Previously, when she was open daily, when the need was more immediate, she had fresh vegetables, breads and cleaning products.
Many folks helped their neighbors by digging them out and sharing their pantries of food. This was the first help many residents saw, since the roads had not been cleared and government agencies were not out in the neighborhoods helping until the storms were completely over. Then, when the roads were beginning to be cleared, there were still people, especially seniors, stuck inside their homes from the massive depth of snow, so the first to help were usually neighbors with shovels.
Other groups of people got together and made donations to the community. On March 23, after the Crestline Lions Club received donations from the Lions International Disaster Assistance program, they did a giveaway of food, 100 snow shovels, some coats and other necessary items. They also purchased $25 gift certificates from local stores. They purchased 50 from Stater Bros, 25 from Ace Hardware and 25 from Rim Forest Lumber and gave them away. It only took about 45 minutes to give out the thousands of dollars of items, which had only been advertised the night before on Facebook. They had already donated 40 $25 gift certificates from Staters Bros earlier in the storm, giving them out as they dug out driveways and delivered groceries to shut ins. This assisted both the recipients and the businesses, most of which had been forced to be closed due to the closed roads and weather.
The Red Cross took a while after the start of the snowstorms to set up shelters, but finally opened evacuation centers during the second half of the storm after the blizzard, while people were stuck on the unplowed roads. They had shelters set up both in Redlands for those stuck down the hill, after the roads had been closed for a few days, and then at Rim High and Charles Hoffman schools for those who needed warmer places to be during the storm. They had food and meals ready-to-eat and basic necessities. The Rim of the World Unified School District superintendent, Dr. Kimberly Fricker, was usually there helping by directing the people where to get the assistance they needed.
Operation Mountain Strong was a coordinating grass roots organization that helped many food distributions at the north shore parking lot of Lake Gregory, at the Blue Jay Cinema and at the Mountain Provisions Free Store in Cedar Glen, offering food and pet food. They even have a Mountain Animal Disaster Relief center in Valley of Enchantment, where they had feed and supplies for a wide variety of animals and pets. They have a Facebook page under Operation Mountain Strong that details the locations and hours of operations.
Now that the weather has begun raining on the snow and melting it and the roads are somewhat clearer, although the last storm again filled the private roads with more snow, many of the county-run and big relief locations closed at the end of March. The county had one big weekend of meeting in two locations with those who needed assistance from property damage and met with hundreds at each location, but full FEMA help is apparently not one of the options.
The county did a tour with that agency and the state last Thursday and Friday, in hopes of receiving more help. It appears to residents that some agencies believe the disaster is over, since Jensen’s Market in Blue Jay has reopened, although now the entire Blue Jay Mall has been red tagged and more people are now discovering as the snow melts more damage to their properties.
The lingering results of this blizzard are not over, as the thousands affected are now receiving messages from their insurance companies that their damage is not covered by their insurance.