Church youth groups give help to displaced in Yakima

August 3, 2011

By Christopher Huber

Students Meryl Seah, Natalie Stender, and Lucy Walker work on an art project with children of the Yakima Nation at the community barbeque. Many of the children depend on Campbell Farm for regular meals. Photo courtesy Amber Slate

Victims of a devastating fire on the Yakima Indian Reservation that destroyed 20 homes and damaged others last February are better off in their rebuilding efforts, thanks to a bunch of Sammamish teens.

The middle school youth groups at Pine Lake Covenant Church and Sammamish Presbyterian Church partnered to send about 100 youth to the Yakima Indian Reservation July 10-15 to serve its residents and provide supplies for families rebuilding after a massive fire last February.

“It made me feel good because I knew I was helping people,” said Lucy Walker, a member of the Sammamish Presbyterian youth group and incoming seventh-grader at Inglewood Junior High. “I decided I wanted to go because I had never been on a mission trip.”

Before the trip, the youth collected hundreds of household items — microwave ovens, cleaning supplies, bedding and kitchen and bath accessories — to distribute to fire victims, which would help many of them in the transition to new housing, said Carmanita Pimms, manager of Campbell Farm, a local mission organization that cultivates produce for residents near Wapato, White Swan and Toppenish.

The students collected enough items to pack an entire SUV and then some, said Lisa Stinson, Sammamish Presbyterian’s communications director.

After returning from the trip, many of the teens have changed perspectives on poverty and the amount of need in the world.

Lucy said she most appreciated hearing harrowing stories from her peers who lived through the fire or have had difficult lives.

“Working with the children their ages or seeing the differences between the two (lifestyles) — that really hits them, realizing it’s not very far from them that it’s happening,” Pimms said.

The groups also volunteered their time to help various organizations feed about 200 hungry families, maintain a farm and work with children at a camp.

“I learned that some people are really in need,” Lucy said. “I want to do this again, because I have the opportunity to do it again next year and the year after that.”

The youth groups of Sammamish Presbyterian Church have traveled to serve on the reservation in various capacities for the past nine years, the church said.

Before this year’s fire response trip, past work ranged from feeding farm animals and doing farm chores to sorting items at the local food bank to hanging out with the Yakima children during their Vacation Bible School.

They have also worked with the Union Gospel Mission there.

“There’s lot of hunger and poverty issues here on the reservation,” Pimms said.

In addition to distributing home necessities to families rebuilding from the fire, the youth got to go cliff jumping, raft down the Yakima River and play night games like capture the flag, Lucy said.

It tends to be a popular trip among the Sammamish youth, as they return with a strong sense of having tangibly helped people, church leaders said.

The joint trip with Pine Lake Covenant filled an ever-present need in the Yakima area, as 31.4 percent of residents of the town of White Swan had income below the poverty line in 2009, according to Sammamish Presbyterian. That’s compared to 12.3 percent statewide.

The Feb. 12 blaze started in a residential chimney in White Swan, according to newspaper reports and the Yakima Nation. Winds gusting at more than 50 miles per hour caused the fire to spread quickly.

It ultimately leveled 20 homes, damaged more and burned 230 acres of land.

Until the mid-July outreach trip, many of the victims had been living in temporary housing.

Reporter Christopher Huber can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or

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One Response to “Church youth groups give help to displaced in Yakima”

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