Written by Sarah Jane Kyle for Coloradoan.com
When Barb Monesson lost her Whale Rock home, cabin and workshop in the High Park Fire, life looked bleak.Though blessed with insurance, which will allow them to rebuild in coming months, Monesson said she and her husband suffered a greater loss than house and home — the scattering of their tight-knit community that’s become her family during the past 35 years she’s lived in Rist Canyon.
“The whole neighborhood is uprooted,” she said.
But one relief center has salved the wounds of emotional loss and physical loss, providing not only much-needed items at no cost to fire victims but also providing a meeting grounds for a family torn apart.
The ACS Community Lift Distribution Center, housed in the old storefront of Mervyns in Foothills Mall, has become a town hall as Monesson and her neighbors regroup from the fire that changed everything.
“The idea of being able to shop and find things to put into our temporary homes has been wonderful, but paramount is being able to find comfort with one another again just by being in a place together,” she said.
“For a long time after the fire, I couldn’t handle going to a grocery store, but I could go into the store at the old Mervyns and be able to just be among friends and grab mac and cheese for dinner.”
Monesson said she’s benefited from cat food, jackets, warm clothing, pots and pans, furniture, tools and more in the past few months. But as the fire becomes more of a memory for those not directly impacted, she says the cupboards have become a little more bare as the store seeks donations to get residents through the winter months.
As winter nears, she hopes her fellow residents will be able to find coats — a major scarcity as winter approaches.
Site manager June Spaulding said the store had seen 3,288 clients as of Sept. 22, and given out nearly 29,500 items of clothing and 60,522 food items.
While winter jackets and warm clothing are high on the list of needed donations, Spaulding said pet food, nonperishable foods, cleaning products, household items, furniture and paper products are also in high demand.
The store is scheduled to close Nov. 21, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, but Spaulding said the team is working to ensure several resources remain available to fire victims after the store’s final day.
“These people are still in need and will be in need for some time,” she said. “We feel that we’re part of the healing process.”
As for the victims, they hope to soon be reunited in their canyon community. Until then, Monesson is glad to have a safe place for their reunions.
“This has been almost a mental health gift for us to all get back together and visit and share our stories,” she said. “We get to spend time just being together in one place. ... I’m so thankful for that.”
Sarah Jane Kyle is the Coloradoan reporter covering volunteerism, nonprofits and philanthropy. Follow her on Twitter @sarahjanekyle or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ reportersarahjane.