In Darrington, the support stacks up

DARRINGTON — The help keeps piling up.

Brook Alongi heaved bales of donated hay and straw Tuesday from a flatbed trailer at the rodeo grounds on Highway 530.

The livestock provisions are just one form that generosity has taken in Darrington, where the support following the March 22 Oso mudslide can be measured by the ton. Elsewhere in town, bottled water, canned food, work gear, cash, gift cards and even the virtual currency known as Bitcoins are piling up.

“We’re getting everything from rabbit food to llama food, horse feed, cow feed,” said Alongi, a board member with the Darrington Horse Owners Association, which runs the rodeo.

By afternoon a pickup that pulled up to the rodeo grounds toted a flatbed trailer full of pallets of dog food. The town of 1,400 people had received another truckload of dog food just a day or two earlier.

In Darrington, an army of volunteers has been working full-time to keep up with the sheer volume of donated goods.

While Alongi and his fellow volunteers tussled with bales weighing more than 100 pounds each, a dozen high school students have kept busy during spring break processing donated food and toiletries. Packs of bottled water, stacked up to eight high in places, are a testament to the amount of work to be done. There aren’t even enough thirsty workers to drink it all.

“In the last two days, we’ve processed over 32 tons” of food, estimated Greg Newberry, a Darrington high school math and physics teacher helping coordinate their efforts at the school. “We’re getting stuff from all over the U.S. and even Canada.”

While it’s all appreciated, it takes elbow grease to keep up.

“Everybody’s been so generous and we don’t want to turn them away,” said Julie Newberry, the math teacher’s wife, who’s volunteering with the North Counties Family Services Relief Fund, also at the school.

Some donations — namely cash and pre-paid debit cards — can be put to use more quickly than others.They don’t take up space and can be used for whatever is needed at the moment.

A pressing need is helping commuters who must travel a two-hour detour via Highway 20 in Skagit County to reach jobs south of Darrington. That’s more than 100 miles to Everett each way — well over double the distance before the slide wiped out more than a mile of Highway 530.

“We have people driving all the way to Tukwila,” Julie Newberry said.

They estimated they’ll need at least $80,000 per month to help people in town with the extra costs of commuting to work. They welcome gas cards or lodging vouchers so that people from Darrington can stay closer to their workplace.

They don’t need any more clothing.

People have dropped off so many clothes and blankets, that Value Village Thrift Stores have had to cart them away. In exchange, the thrift store chain provided in-store vouchers for people who lost belongings to use for whatever else they need.

The Newberrys’ 24-year-old son, Paden Newberry of Bellingham, has been collecting donations of the virtual kind.

An appeal last week on the digital forum www.reddit.com generated 13 Bitcoins, the electronic currency.

Paden Newberry said that’s equivalent to $6,000, most of which has been converted into dollars for the relief fund at Coastal Community Bank’s Darrington branch.

Back in the world of flesh and blood, the rodeo grounds has become a clearinghouse for donations intended to help the wellbeing of local pets and livestock — as well as their owners’ pocketbooks.

One manufacturer alone donated 27 tons of grains and other varieties of food for animals, Alongi said.

“Cat food seems to be the No. 1 commodity,” he said. “The cat food has been flying out of here.”

The association also has helped care for eight horses from a flooded farm, and another injured horse.

Rick Karns, another board member with the horse owners association, called the support for the animals “a beautiful thing to see.

“We’ve had a lot of community involvement” over the years, Karns said, “but not like this.”

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