Help for recovery effort comes from miles away

Joan Grogan remembers just one disaster in Dillon, Mont., where she and her husband own a store on South Montana Street. Their 3-D Gift Shop bills itself as the “biggest little store” in town.

“The only real catastrophe was in 1979,” Grogan said Thursday. “We had our big Labor Day rodeo, and during the parade a military jet clipped one of the buildings and exploded.”

Capt. Joel Rude, of the Montana Air National Guard, was killed Sept. 3, 1979, when the Convair F-106 Delta Dart he was piloting during the parade flyover hit a grain elevator.

In Grogan’s memory, Dillon has never known a tragedy on the scale of the Oso mudslide. Yet in her town nearly 700 miles from Snohomish County, Montanans have stepped up to help people who are struggling in the Oso area.

“It’s a small town helping a small town,” said Stephanie Haynes, a Snohomish County woman who took a spring break trip to Dillon last week.

Haynes, whose family visits the southwestern Montana town several times a year, has become friends with Joan and Harold Grogan. During Haynes’ recent trip, the couple’s 3-D Gift Shop became a drop-off center for towels, travel-size soaps and toiletries, and other supplies to be used by crews searching the mudslide site.

On Wednesday, Honor Society students at Dillon’s Beaverhead County High School went from classroom to classroom collecting money to help with the mudslide recovery effort. The Honor Society group, with its adviser Christine Hildreth, collected $130.

Haynes, a member of the Lake Stevens Lions Club, said she learned from several friends that towels and hygiene products were needed by mudslide work crews.

One of those friends is Tonya Christoffersen, manager of administration for the Lake Stevens Sewer District. “I’m a connector. I wear many hats,” said Christoffersen, another Lions Club member.

Through the years, Christoffersen has collected shoes and coats for people at the Everett Gospel Mission shelter. “People are always dropping stuff at my office. It’s our responsibility to take care of people,” Christoffersen said.

She and two other friends, Diane Scotty Irwin and Karen Morea, have been exchanging email since the mudslide about how to help. Morea is involved in the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 181 in Lake Stevens, and Irwin is a combat medic in the Washington Army National Guard who has been in the mudslide area.

Hundreds of miles away in Montana, Haynes talked with Joan Grogan about the mudslide and what her friends were sharing.

Grogan said her town has never had a major disaster, but does have a history of giving. After Hurricane Katrina, she said, the people of Dillon sent a 53-foot semi-truck filled with water, food, clothes and medical supplies to Louisiana. She said national news of the Oso disaster has been talked about. But it took Haynes’ weeklong visit to the town of about 4,000 — more than double the size of Darrington — to bring the mudslide tragedy home to people in Beaverhead County.

When Haynes arrived, she said she asked her store-owner friend “Hey, could people come down here if they want to contribute? I’ll bring home whatever we collect.” Happy to help, Grogan spread the word through The Dillonite Daily, a community publication, and on a radio station there.

Dillon, which is in a valley surrounded by mountains, is where Haynes hopes to retire. This weekend, she drove home to Snohomish County in a car filled with more than 1,000 donated towels and washcloths, and hundreds of travel-size soaps and shampoos. Two Dillon hotels, the Best Western Paradise Inn and the GuestHouse Inn &Suites, gave her trash bags stuffed with used but clean towels.

“It’s a wonderful little town. The response has been amazing,” said Haynes, who plans to take the items to wherever they are needed early this week.

Grogan told Haynes one donor had relatives in Oso. Another person wrapped towels and soap like a gift — “and we’re going to leave it like that,” Haynes said.

It is a gift, one of love and concern, from one small community to another.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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