Underwood Fruit Co. fire

October 18, 2017

This film was made possible by the generous support of Hood River Cultural Trust, Gorge Community Foundation, Arts in Education of the Gorge and Washington Gorge Action Programs.  Through their support, Story Gorge was able to stipend a local high school senior to complete a paid internship and create this story. This became Bruce Bradbury's senior project that led to his successful graduation. Just one more example of the good that can be done in a community through the power of STORY!

On October 18, 2017, the Underwood Fruit Company pear packing plant caught fire. No one was injured, but over 200 employees lost their jobs and source of income, leaving families to struggle to support themselves. The Underwood Fruit Company is located in Bingen, Washington along the beautiful and scenic Columbia River Gorge.

Through fundraising efforts by Laurie Stanton, funds from Hood River Cultural Trust and from the Salvador Fund were provided to create a short film about this event and its impact on the community.  Story Gorge LLC used the funds to hire a high school senior, Bruce Bradbury, to create the film as an internship, with guidance by Story Gorge staff. 

The Families

The 200 employees who lost their jobs were mostly families.  These families have an average of 3 children, as well as elderly parents to provide for.  Many families were completely dependent on Underwood Fruit  Company employment for income.  After the fire, about 80% of employees who were able to work went back to work at reduced hours on night shift.  Industry partners allowed Underwood Fruit to use their lines to pack fruit to continue operations, but the work had to be during night hours.   Some people chose to wait to work until the new line is ready (many employees have to wait because they cannot work night shift).  A portion of the employees who are working are able to work 2 out of every 3 weeks as they are rotating their packing crew to give work to everyone.    Classified as seasonal employees, none are eligible for unemployment benefits.  Without this income, they are unable to pay rent, buy food, pay for gas, or pay for medical care.   Most of these families are established in the area, not migrant.  They have families here, children in the schools and are regular members of churches.

On October 18, 2017, the Underwood Fruit Company pear packing plant caught fire. No one was injured, but over 200 employees lost their jobs and source of income, leaving families to struggle to support themselves. The Underwood Fruit Company is located in Bingen, Washington along the beautiful and scenic Columbia River Gorge.

The First Responders

Our film team identified and interviewed two of the brave first responders from the White Salmon Fire Department who was on the front lines of battling the blaze caused by the massive fire.  They are the ones who risked their well-being for the community.  

Community support

Within 24 hours of the fire, a GoFundMe campaign had kicked off and raised nearly $10,000.  Within a week, over $25,000 had been donated.  High school students donated proceeds from school functions.  Local businesses continue to hold fundraising events.  Skyline Hospital Foundation committed $25,000 toward helping with healthcare needs.  The Board of Commissioners of Klickitat County has dedicated $6,300 for a financial literacy training course for families who apply.  In total, over $100,000 was raised by the community to help employees of Underwood Fruit Company after the fire.  

 

WGAP, the primary resource for support services for these families, was able to use these funds to pay utilities, rent, medical bills and other household needs.

 

Underwood Fruit Company expects to complete construction on the new building and be back in operation by early December 2018. 

Bruce Bradbury is a graduate of the Randolph Technical Career Center (RTCC) program for Digital Filmmaking. While at the school in central Vermont, Bruce became enthralled by the world of visual creating and storytelling, and in 2016, moved to Hood River, OR to start his creative career with the intention of having more opportunity in the friendly & sustainable environment of the Columbia River Gorge. Bruce is most inspired by fictional narrative storytelling, but more generally, by the power of a story to convey important meanings and emotions to the viewer.

 

In late 2017, Bruce got the opportunity to work with Story Gorge on creating the short documentary piece 'Fruta Del Fuego'. He saw a need in the community and wanted to help in the best way he could by participating in this project. This was his first experience in documentary filmmaking, and Sean O'Connor took him under his wing to help guide him on the steps needed to create a fully expanded-upon piece. He learned a lot about the world of documentary through his hours of learning and mentorship with Story Gorge. Without the immense help of Katie O'Connor and Laurie Stanton, who planned and coordinated scheduling and logistics, this documentary film wouldn't have been able to succeed and Bruce would not have had the amazing opportunity to put his creativity into a project of which he saw a need for in the community.

Story Origin

Story Gorge is based in Bingen, Washington.  It is here that we live, work, and play.  On October 18th, our director was awoken by sirens and the transformers attached to power poles above the house exploding and sending sparks raining down to the street outside his home. Soon images and stories of the Underwood Fruit Company fire came flooding across out social media channels.  One of these posts simply read, "I need a filmmaker who can shoot and produce a short documentary on the Underwood Fruit fire... This is for a fund-raising effort and to continue the good work already begun."

With that, we reached out and offered our services to utilize the power of visual story to enact local social benifit.  We hope that this short film will act as a catalyst in helping our neighbors thrive in these challenging times.

A Collaboration of Story Gorge and Partners

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Photography, videography, film and photo education.

© 2019 by Story Gorge LLC.

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