Caught in the catastrophic Almeda fire, the Talent Mobile Estates are among the many homes reduced to embers this Tuesday. This tightly-knit community's low-income and undocumented families have been left homeless after the inferno crossed from Highway 99 to Talent Avenue at the mobile home complex.
Among the impacted residents are my mother, Marcella Ruikis, and grandmother, Susan Wells. They are two respected artists in the Ashland/Talent community as singers and established vendors of the Lithia Artisan's Market for over 20 years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit my family, it worsened an already difficult situation. Susan is disabled and already suffers from many ailments, among them being aggressive inflammatory neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, a collapsed spine and scoliosis, extreme difficulty walking, and fibromyalgia. She is immunocompromised and was thus cut off from most visitors and remained in her mobile home through the pandemic. Marcella provided most of her daily care, with some help from two caretakers through senior services and Medicaid. In the recent months, Susan's health has declined to an alarming point. Her weight has decreased to 80lbs, she has lost most functionality in her hands, has a possible staph infection in her elbow, and her chronic pain has increased significantly. Before Susan's mobile home burned down, she had just introduced a wheelchair into her life.
My family has also faced significant financial difficulties since the COVID-19 pandemic. Marcella was faced with a choice pretty early on: work and risk exposure to the virus, but gain some much-needed financial support, or rely on the stimulus package and unemployment benefits to fit the stay-at-home order and shield Susan from more exposure. She ended up being laid off from her position as a waitress at Great American Pizza Company and started to focus on taking care of Susan. Marcella relied on unemployment checks as the government actually decreased Susan's social security payments, putting the pressure of both their monthly bills on my mother's back. Marcella's unemployment coverage ended in July, and since then the two have been strapped for cash already; the wipeout of their earthly possessions leaves them in a sticky situation. The two need a secure housing situation as soon as possible.
Among the ashes of this great fire are almost all of Susan and Marcella's belongings. Both of their mobile homes were destroyed. Original art pieces, single-copy photos, and heirlooms dating back generations are lost. Easily over $10,000 in equipment has been lost- including steamers, silk, dyes, custom tables, and countless tools. Both Marcella and Susan had active studios they had developed over many years. Susan's art- her legendary dragons and frogs, her clever poems and songs- is lost in time. My mother's incredible abstractions, too- her flowing plant pieces that came to life- the mystic wisdom that runs through her hands in sweeping, cascading tones that move before your eyes. This art was the very fabric of my childhood, and the loss we feel as a family runs deeply through us. The artists remain; their eyes that see so deeply through us, their hands that cradle our very souls. But we grieve.
Miraculously, Marcella managed to get out all of her silk pieces that are displayed on her etsy page (etsy.com/shop/MarcellaSilks), and some other pieces we hold dear.
With the loss of their homes, these artists are in an impossible situation. Their main source of income and relief was in those studios. The trailers they invested in burnt away; Marcella and Susan are challenged with rebuilding their entire lives.
We are asking for financial relief from our community. We are not a family who has a back-up fund or even a savings account. I live in Corvallis, attending OSU and relying on scholarships and grants to stay afloat. My father lives in Chicago, and has also been relying on unemployment benefits for months. We have scraped by as usual, helping each other while we can, but now we absolutely need your help. My family is in an immediate crisis that will have lasting impacts on our health and well-being, and your donation will go directly to securing housing for Marcella and Susan.
We will be updating this page regularly with other mutual aid opportunities for members of this community. Please share with us any gofundme pages, venmo accounts, or paypal accounts that are dedicated to helping other displaced residents of the Talent Mobile Estates or larger Talent/Ashland/Phoenix area. We need to share our connections with our immediate low-income neighbors who are largely Hispanic/Latinx. We need to spread wealth widely and equitably through this community in this crisis. We love each other, we care for each other. Thank you all.