During a crisis, communities must come together. For impacted businesses, relief teams and individual people, every adversity is an opportunity to creatively give back.

On Monday, September 7th, XS Media took note of the fire warnings that predicted poor air quality in Eugene, a need for first responders, and the potential loss of belongings and infrastructure. The next day, a large wildfire threatened one of our most important towers, which provides internet service to the Eugene Airport.

We had to think fast. Quickly, we coordinated an administrative meeting with our Network Operations team and hurried to create a backup support option for the homes and businesses fed by that tower. We called the owner of the site location to make sure he knew the fire was approaching his home rapidly — but he was already evacuating with his family, watching the plume of smoke move towards his house.

Then something unpredictable happened. Firefighters managed to stop the fire from spreading, about 200 yards away from our tower. But this close call wouldn’t be the first time that a tower location was threatened or damaged. Throughout the week, our network had taken several hits as the fire and smoke continued to engulf East Lane County. On September 10th, we reported that a total of 12 sites were without line power, while three were in threatened areas operating on temporary generators.

In a matter of days, Eugene became one of the hardest-hit cities in Oregon, with the hazardous air quality in record-breaking condition. Yet despite the operational setbacks this caused our company, something was becoming very clear to us: the community was suffering. With a deep sense of uncertainty for what was to come, we realized an opportunity to give back to the community with what we had.

The first volunteer on the job was Jason Robinson, Project Manager at XS Media. He volunteered starting Wednesday afternoon the 9th, at the Lane County Emergency Shelter relief zone. Initially, he had only planned to dedicate a few hours to the effort before realizing that he was needed more than he expected. Compelled to stay, he volunteered through the night organizing donations and assisting recently evacuated community members. Understanding the extensive and ongoing need for community support, he and XS Media Chief Operations Officer Stephen Parac swapped positions early on Thursday morning, where Stephen volunteered that day from roughly 6:00am to 7:00pm.

Stephen described the relief zone as being bigger than a football field, with several rows of covered fold-up tables used as clothing and supply stations, as well as service stations for relief organizations such as the Red Cross and the Humane Society. Additionally, there were meal stations available for people to pack food, as well as eat hot meals provided fresh by local restaurants.

There were different types of evacuee groups entering and exiting the relief zone. Some were families, others were by themselves. Some of their homes were threatened, while others were destroyed. Some people had time to prepare and gather supplies before evacuating, while others entered the relief zone without food or clothes to wear the next day. For Stephen, these moments of realization were sometimes grim and providing support to everyone seemed daunting. But despite the prevalent need for immediate attention to these vulnerable groups, the support between local businesses, community preservation teams and relief organizations, was inherently uplifting and efforts moved at a very fast pace.

“The line of donations never slowed,” said Stephen. In fact, as fast as people were giving, the relief zone did not have enough tabletop spaces to organize the donations. So Stephen called XS Media crew members Alex and Jared to see what they could do. On top of bringing new tables, they dedicated their spare time to volunteering as well, which included setting up a temporary WiFi and power station for evacuees to contact family and friends, and charge their devices.

Stephen described the experience as a humbling reminder of how important communication is, especially for displaced groups in a crisis.

At the end of Stephen’s 13-hour volunteer shift, he got home and removed his N95 mask. Around his face, he was covered in a film of white ash and smoke from the polluted air that collected throughout the day. He thought about what it would be like to lose your home in a matter of hours and have to look to other people for support and assistance. Stephen says: “Whenever you volunteer, you feel this connection to humanity because you’re doing something in service of others. I saw people at their lowest point, but I know that I made at least a tiny difference by being there.”

Stephen felt humbled to be working with a team of people to provide support for a cause much bigger than themselves. Reflecting on his team of people-first individuals focused on communication and connection, he says: “The community cares and it was so important to show people that they are not alone.”

Photo via the Register Guard