Collen Meyer, left, the HELP Center’s client services administrator, and Karen Patterson, executive director, consider where and how to store the staples in the “meals ready to eat” the Mountain Fire camp donated. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Fortunately the Mountain Fire skirted Idyllwild and the town was spared any damage. Most residents suffered and endured the inconvenience of having to evacuate for four nights.

But the fire and subsequent evacuation posed a greater and more difficult challenge for some, particularly clients of the Idyllwild HELP Center, according to Executive Director Karen Patterson.

Many lacked transportation, or the money to ensure their vehicle had gas or they had funds to pay for a motel. “Clients called here; they didn’t have gas money,” Patterson said.

“We had people who stayed because they had no transportation,” said Colleen Meyer, the HELP Center’s client services administrator. “They struggled and were overwhelmed.”

For example, if they were to evacuate, the next hurdle was finding a way to return.

Patterson and Meyer, as well as Board President Lou Bacher, were able to evacuate the afternoon of July 17.

While in the desert awaiting the return notice, Bacher thought about the HELP clients. “Our people have nobody. Their safety net is very fragile and we were gone,” he lamented.

Eventually, Patterson, who went to San Diego, and Meyer, in Hemet, housed clients and their pets, besides family, during the evacuation.

For many, the evacuation also created an economic problem. Three to six days of work and wages were lost. “They are already on the edge,” Patterson said.

But good fortune did arrive at the HELP Center. Within days of the evacuation order being lifted, Idyllwild Fire Capt. Jim Reyes helped to direct to the HELP Center 100 boxes of MREs (meals ready to eat) that were left at the fire camp.

“There were 10 lunches in each box. They took out the perishable food before delivering them,” said Meyer. Cereal, candy, granola are available. The HELP staff also offered dozens of apples and oranges for clients.

But the HELP Center still needs some assistance as the staff is already preparing and planning for the fall and winter holidays, Bacher said. “We need everything, but money is the greatest need.”

Clients who lost wages will need aid to pay utilities next month. And the HELP Center can always use canned protein, such as tuna, they said.

“If you need food, we’ll help,” Bacher assured. In addition, the Community Pantry will be back this month. And from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Salvation Army returns with food. Recipients must meet income qualifications, according to Patterson. But if they have already qualified, they don’t have to repeat the process.