ASHLAND, Ore--- The Southern Oregon football team stepped up to help out the Ashland Food Project in a food drive on Saturday.
On a normal Saturday in October, the football team would be warming up and clashing pads inside Raider Stadium. The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans. As the doors were closing for the final time in the summer of 2020, the Almeda Fire was tearing through Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix.
"When you look at the total devastation in our community," said head coach Charlie Hall. "Our hearts go out to all of the people that have been impacted by the fire. At the same time, your heart gets warm by the outreach of support from a lot of different people on so many levels. "
The Raiders, like many in Southern Oregon, would not return to the area for two weeks. That is when Hall had a conversation with his squad.
"It was still pretty raw around here," said Hall. "It was raw emotions and it was a very sensitive area. So, the last thing that the community needed was the football team really disrespecting what was going on."
Disrespecting what was going on never crossed the Raiders' minds. In fact, they immediately started helping.
"It is really good for the university and like the football players to like, help out the community as much as we can especially like, during hard times like this," said punter Tiwfaluk Umulap. "Especially like, when people need it the most and everyone just going through everything this year. We all need to just come together as one and help out the community. It also helps us get to know our community and the people that we play with."
Saturday's food drive was not a stereotypical food drive. The Raider personality showed up in full force.
"Well, it is the coolest food drive I have ever been in. No question," said Ashland Food Project board member Amy Blossom. "And I have only been in it 11 years. So, we just had a dance contest you know? There is a little slow spot. Music is playing. We are just making it fun and the guys are really excited because they have been living in a bubble and they are not getting out much either."
Every Raider involved in Saturday's food drive had the community on their minds. When the Almeda Fire destroyed a large part of Phoenix and Talent, a lot of people had to think about the things that they lost. Kicker Maxwell Chandler thought of what his next steps would be.
"My first thought was like, what can I do to help?" said Chandler. "What can a lot of people do to help make it better for the people who are struggling?"
The Raiders were particularly helpful with Saturday's food drive because of the situation the Ashland Food Project is in. The Ashland Food Project has a food drive every two months, normally. The food is donated to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it much more difficult to hold the drives. Many of the volunteers have to worry about keeping themselves and others safe. Blossom says the Raiders being willing to help made it much easier.
Those who sign up for the drives can either drop the food off at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank or volunteers will come pick it up from donors' houses.
To sign up to donate to the Ashland Food Project, you can go to https://ashlandfoodproject.com/