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!
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.
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.
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.