Matthew Jelalian: Charity and kindness from the ashes

September 23, 2018

Matthew Jelalian poses for a portrait in the Daily Herald studio on Friday, March 6, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

If you’ve simply been outside, you’ve probably noticed that there’s something in the air. That something is smoke, thanks to the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires.

The fires have been quite intense and have caused a bunch of Utah residents to evacuate their homes. There were even multiple highway closures.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks trying to follow what’s happening with the fires but it’s been way crazier for the firefighters.

I have a cousin who used to work as a firefighter, As a kid, he took my parents and me to the fire station and showed us around the place. I remember two things about that trip. The first thing I remember were these cool, heat-detection goggles.

He demonstrated them by taking his shoes off and walking across fire department floor. While I was wearing the goggles, I could see his footprints on the ground where his feet warmed the floor. It was cool seeing the footprints appear and disappear.

The second thing I remember was how heavy everything was.

From the jackets to the hoses to the heat-detection goggles, everything was so heavy. Everything required effort to lift. No one is picking up any sort of firefighting equipment without concerted effort.

With that memory in my mind, I imagine all the firefighters out there battling flames that are covering mountainsides. I think of the brave men and women carrying enormous amounts of equipment, fighting mountain flames in an already abnormally hot September air.

I’m grateful for the work these firefighters are doing and I hope everyone else is too. That being said, I also want to highlight some others as well.

I’d like to bring attention to the residents of Utah who have donated time, talents and resources to the brave firefighters. With the firefighters working day and night, they needed help.

They were asking for food, drinks and other necessities. I seem to remember calls for socks and gloves at one point but I can’t remember off hand.

Our fellow Utahns answered the call quickly. They stocked the firefighters beyond their capacity to handle the donations. It got to the point where Utah’s Lt. Gov Spencer Cox took to social media to report the good news. The Red Cross had a long line of people waiting to volunteer, and they received so many donations that they were asking for people to stop for the time being.

The other think Cox said is that of the 6,000 people who had to evacuate their homes, no one was staying at a shelter.

Then there was the story of the Petersons.

A young couple had their entire wedding planned, including festivities in Woodland Hills. But because of the fires, they were forced to evacuate. None of their wedding supplies escaped the fire except for the bride’s dress and the groom’s suit by the looks of their photos.

According to Cox’s chief of staff, Kirsten Rappleye, Utahns went above and beyond to help this couple have the wedding they were hoping for.

“In an attempt to help a friend who was putting together a very last minute wedding reception for a couple who had been evacuated from their homes, we put out a simple social post asking for flowers from yards,” wrote Rappleye on Facebook. “What resulted was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Catering, a venue, decor, flowers, Venmo donations, volunteer time and so much more than I can really name here, all donated overnight! We could have thrown three wedding receptions, all by the generosity and love of Utahns. The experience was sweet beyond words. Many of us found ourselves misty-eyed pretty much all day.”

Thanks to Oregano Italian Kitchen, Modern Display, Utah DIY Wedding, Summerhill Equestrian and Event Center and others, the couple was able to see a new wedding and reception rise from the ashes of the one the wildfires burnt to the ground.

I know that the wildfires have caused a lot of problems. They’ve destroyed land, burnt down property, destroyed our air quality, displaced wildlife and even ruined a wedding. Not everyone is making it out of this wildfire with everything intact.

Nonetheless, it’s so heartwarming to see people caring for others and coming together to make it work.

It’s nice to see what communities can do when they work together. It’s as refreshing as the Gatorade donated to the firefighters to see a young couple have their wedding festivities restored. No one’s arguing that we shouldn’t bail out Salem. No one is saying we can’t help a young couple because there are firefighters who need help. Everyone is simply getting up, doing their part, and getting the work done.

I’m not saying we need more wildfires, but I am saying we need to come together more often to help each other. It’s events like this that make me so proud to live in this state.

And although this smoke may give me lung cancer faster than 40 years of smoking ever could, if I can continue to be around people this generous, I’ll still die happy.

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