Vale High School junior Tanner Steele loads food boxes last week as part of a local effort to help fire victims in western Oregon. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Last week, Vale Elementary School principal Theresa Meiwald prepared for a quick trip to western Oregon.

Meiwald’s drive was no ordinary excursion to the other side of the state.

Her journey capped a weeklong effort by the Vale School District and the community to help victims of the Santiam Canyon wildfires. Hundreds in the canyon east of Salem lost their homes or businesses to the fires.

The donation effort was spearheaded by the high school associated student body and FFA officers, said Alisha McBride, district superintendent.

McBride said the idea for the project came after a virtual meeting of state school superintendents last month. At the session, Todd Miller, superintendent of the Santiam Canyon School District, described the challenges the fire posed for his students and teachers.

“It was heartbreaking,” said McBride.

After the meeting McBride decided to help. So she sent an email to the district teachers and administrators and asked a question: Who wants to be involved in this effort?

Then came a Zoom meeting with administrators, Vale student body leaders and FFA officers, and the project began.

For 10 days in late September, students canvassed the community, collecting items and monetary donations to deliver to the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund. Each day, the donated items were taken to the elementary school.

On Oct. 2, members of the Vale High School associated student body loaded the bed of Meiwald’s truck with the bounty: food, toilet paper, diapers, wipes, toothbrushes and a host of other items.

Meiwald then drove more than 400 miles to Turner, where she delivered the donations to the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund. Meiwald also turned over a check for the $1,800 collected by the group from Vale businesses and residents.

“I think this is phenomenal. Our community always steps up,” said Meiwald.

Vicente Arteaga, Vale student body president, said the effort personifies Vale.

“Here in Vale we take pride in being Vikings. So, this is just Viking pride, the way we are. We help other people,” said Arteaga.

Arteaga said he was pleased with the success of the donation effort.

 “You take pride in seeing it. Everyone came together,” said Arteaga.

Meiwald said she was not surprised by the results.

“It’s what Vikings do,” said Meiwald.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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