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March 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Darrington comes together following tragedy

DARRINGTON — In one day, Samantha Valencia went from custodian to pizza-maker, to running the community shelter in Darrington.

As the news spread of the severity of Saturday’s mudslide, and with the realization that one of her best friends was driving on state Highway 530 when it hit, Valencia did what she could to keep her mind occupied and help her community.

“A lot of us have lost friends, and I lost a dear friend,” she said Friday morning while breakfast was being served at the community center. “Being here helps me keep my mind off the grief.”

Valencia walks around with a clipboard stuffed full of sticky notes and small sheets of paper with names, phone numbers and messages scrawled across them — her phone is ringing constantly.

On Thursday, someone gave her a small notebook so she could keep everything organized.

Her daughter wrote on the first page, “Take a deep breath mom, I love you.”

Darrington residents have banded together to support their town. Even as the Red Cross and Southern Baptist Church volunteers arrived in town ready, willing and able to take over, the Darrington community wanted to take on the disaster relief themselves.

“The community comes together when there is any kind of need and just gets things done,” said Valencia, 43. “Everyone just goes into the ‘get it done’ mode — seeing a need and filling it.”

From 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day for the past week, Valencia and members of the community have been cooking nonstop for the first-responders and the community, as well as collecting donations for anyone impacted by the mudslide.

Students are organizing, sorting and storing the donations, while teachers, retirees and business owners have been cooking, collecting and distributing food and donated goods to those still unable to leave their homes while grieving for lost loved ones.

Valencia, a custodian for the Darrington School District, has lived in the town for six years. In that time, she became close friends with Summer Raffo, who worked as a custodian at the school with her.

Raffo was also a farrier and was driving on Highway 530 to a horseshoeing appointment Saturday when the mudslide struck her car.

After the slide hit, Valencia went down to the Hometown Bakery and Cafe to help make pizzas to take to the volunteers working at the slide. She said she needed to keep her mind off her friend, who was still missing. Raffo has since been identified as one of the 17 victims of the slide.

“I was texting and trying to get ahold of her … I was panicking and needed to do something,” she said. “And I feel like I have been in a fog ever since.”

The Red Cross arrived in Darrington on Sunday to cook and take over the disaster relief, but the community members had already taken charge and said they didn’t need help, said Larry Fortmuller, spokesman for the Red Cross in Darrington.

For the past week, the Red Cross has been on the sidelines helping the community by delivering meals to the 150 people working on the east side of the mudslide.  By Thursday evening, though, the community members were beginning to fatigue.

“We have been making 250 meals three times a day for almost a week,” Valencia said. “The women that had been cooking needed a break before they start preparing food for all the funerals that will happen over the next week.”

So Friday morning, the Red Cross and the Southern Baptist Church volunteers took over the cooking for the community while the state of Washington set up a mobile kitchen to feed the crews working the slide.

“The people of Darrington are very self-sufficient,” Bill Fortune, of the Red Cross, said about the unusual arrangement. “We knew they would not be able to continue indefinitely, so we were here for them in whatever way they needed us until they were ready for us to take over.”

Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin said he has had a long list of things to do since the day the slide hit and he couldn’t be more proud of how his community took ownership of the tragedy, with volunteers working nonstop since day one.

“I didn’t even have to ask them -– they already had my back, so that was one less thing for me to worry about it,” he said. “I knew they had it under control … they just went in and they haven’t stopped.”

Comments | More in General news, The Blotter | Topics: Darrington, Oso mudslide


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