Bring back the fun – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Tamara Fielding, right, and Helen Funk exit the Mace building at the Expo at Central Point.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune The Expo has served as an emergency shelter for those affected by the wildfires and the pandemic, but next week it will be used as a fairground again.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneHelen Funk walks through the Expo parking lot where rides are scheduled for the Jackson County Fair next week.
After serving as a disaster area during the fires and pandemic, the Expo will finally be used for its intended purpose: fun and fair
Just hours after the Almeda fire ravaged Talent and Phoenix last September, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, Expo director Helen Funk knew the community – and the fairgrounds of the county where so many locals venture out to have fun in the summer – would be forever changed.
The Expo was already serving as a site for the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment during the pandemic. So when it came to setting up temporary searches for those displaced by the fires, staff and volunteers were “all on deck,” Funk said.
When the exhibit opens for the Jackson County Fair July 14-18, the Mace Building, which provided a safe space for fire victims and a seat for assistants, will host a tribute dubbed “Southern Oregon Strong.”
When people who lost their homes to the fires slept on cots or in their vehicles, battling the pandemic and the fires, the Mace Building became a makeshift living room for anyone in need.
Fire victims could find everything from medical care, a hot meal and various social services to clothing or mental health supports – or even just a soft spot to land and listen to the news reports.
âBefore the fires, we were closed. I had mowed the lawn that day, making a little joke with God, like, “What am I doing here?” At one point in my life I wanted to go to med school and instead I was running an exhibition center during a pandemic and I have nothing else to do but mow the grass and pull out weeds, âFunk said.
After the first reports of the Almeda fire, Funk said, Expo staff and volunteers started texting and calling him to let him know they were about to do so. all that could be done.
âUsually this building is used during the fair for what we call ‘observable wildlife’ – the reptiles of Brad’s world, that sort of thing. After Almeda, this was where everyone came to communicate – to see what was going on, where everyone came for their mission, to receive messages. There were a lot of tears and sweat in this building.
On one of those first nights, Tamara Fielding, administrator of the former Northridge Center, an assisted living facility lost in the fire, sought solace in the Mace building and stumbled upon Funk.
âNorthridge basically started burning to the ground as soon as they evacuated the residents. The staff lost all of their vehicles and took everyone to the Expo. Around 2 am, she and I ended up walking around making sure everyone had blankets, and we ended up crying and praying together, âFunk said.
âI said, ‘This is usually the place where people come to have fun. I can’t wait for you to come back someday, and I promise we will sit and laugh, play and have fun here.
Fielding said the tribute scheduled for the week of the fair was timely.
âI remember being so grateful that they opened up and welcomed us all. Anyone who needed a place, it was amazing. There were nurses, doctors, Expo staff, everyone took so much care of us. It was just such a sense of community coming together, âsaid Fielding.
âIt’s so special because everyone is so excited to come back to life and the good life, and to have a place to go to see where we’ve come from. And where we are now, I think, it will be really good. There will be a lot of tears, but I think there will also be joy. Everyone in our community has been through so much. It’ll bring a little healing.
Ali Leffler, salesperson and event coordinator for the Expo, said the tribute at the fair will serve as a reminder to the community that comes together during a traumatic time.
Leffler, who was on the Oregon coast when the fires broke out, said she couldn’t have imagined being anywhere other than the Expo when there were community members in need.
âI described it as it was like our living room and our dining room. To us, here at the Expo, we’re like a family of siblings, and we’re all adopted, so we’re very dysfunctional, but there’s definitely a feeling of âThis is our home,â Leffler said. .
“It was devastating and very unfortunate that they had to come to us for the reasons they did, but while they were here we were going to take the best care of them that we knew.”
Leffler added: âIt wasn’t that long ago that I was at the grocery store and a little old lady was clutching my wrist, and she looked at me and I kind of recognized her. â¦ She looked me in the eye and said, ‘You gave me a hug when my house burned down.’ There, at Fred Meyer’s, I completely lost him.
Funk said Fair Week is the best way to inject new memories into what feels a bit like holy ground after a year of struggle and heartache.
The Mace building will provide a soft spot to land during the sweltering heat, along with photos of the community and its many helpers, and will be a place for community members to write notes to first responders, Funk said.
âWe have done the right thing over the past year, first with the pandemic, then during the fires. We all kept our hopes up to have this gigantic reunification of everyone for a happy occasion called the Jackson County Fair, âsaid Funk.
“We need to be there for our community during these difficult times, and we wanted to be the ones bringing the fun back.”
Contact freelance writer Buffy Pollock at [email protected].