Holly Richardson: Emergencies bring out the best of Utahns

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Signs were put up in Woodland Hills thanking the firefighters, support crew and law enforcement agencies working the Pole Creek fire. Residents from Woodland Hills, under mandatory evacuation orders, were allowed to drive to their homes with a Utah County Sheriff's escort to retrieve pets and medications Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

I suspect that every bride and groom marry with the expectation that their “one perfect day” will lie in their memories forever. But Sterling and Sara Peterson got a different version of “perfect” than they were expecting.

The home they planned to use for their wedding reception was under the evacuation order from the Pole Creek Fire the day before the wedding. Left behind in the home were the tablecloths, the decorations, the food and the table settings. A call went out for volunteers, and one, Kirsten Rappleye, pushed it out via Facebook and Twitter. Within hours, more than 500 volunteers had responded and, by 9 p.m., the Petersons learned that the next day, they would have a venue, food, decorations, flowers, lights and lovely table settings.

Chad Pritchard, the owner and chef at Oregano Italian Kitchen, stepped up to cater the food. Kathryn Chapman of Utah DIY Wedding provided the decorations and Modern Display provided flowers, while many others pitched in to help in ways large and small. Rappleye, also the chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, estimates $5,000 worth of donations for the happy couple.

That is only one of many examples of community support during these trying times. But it’s a great example of why I love Utah.

Bryan Johnson from Bandera Brisket got several barbecue buddies together and smoked over 700 pounds of meat for evacuees. He also invited Kona Shave Ice to come provide a cool treat and they responded willingly.

When a restaurant providing lunch the next day let organizers know at 8 p.m. the night before that they could not donate but would need to be paid instead, a friend put out a request for funds and raised double the amount in less than 15 minutes. The balance is providing school lunches for 50 evacuee children spending their days at an elementary that was not evacuated.

Nebo School District sent out a call for volunteers through Sign Up Genius and every single slot was filled within 10 minutes. In fact, the donations and desire to help have overwhelmed the Red Cross and Nebo School. Currently, Salem City is the point of contact for ongoing needs. On the list today are items like jerky, chili, bread and peanut butter, paper plates, deodorant and size 4 and 5 diapers.

Out-of-state firefighters are a bit bewildered. Utah is unique, we hear. School kids are writing and sending notes to the line, along with the meals. Signs have popped up all over, thanking the firefighters and, in one touching display at Salem Hills High School, signed by students from Orem High School, reaching out in solidarity to evacuees.

Kids are going up to firefighters and engaging with them. Some kids have set up stands selling lemonade, cookies and tomatoes to try to do something to help the firefighters. Twenty mental health professionals showed up to provide counseling at Salem Hills High School Sunday night after two calls were made late Saturday evening.

The Laundry Lady offered free laundry services for those who are evacuated. Red Hanger Cleaners visited Salem Hills High School Saturday to pick up laundry from evacuees for free laundry services. Gas stations are offering free coffee, soda, doughnuts and other snacks. Sapphire Salon and Healing Spa is offering evacuees a free hair wash and blow dry between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.

That is just a smattering of the many ways Utahns have stepped up to help each other. And it has been such a welcome reminder that when people come together with compassion, friendship and unity, miracles happen. I love it.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson, a regular Salt Lake Tribune contributor, finds her hope and optimism renewed in the face of some awful fires.