Sometimes, the only viable response to unthinkable darkness is to light a candle.
For some Douglas County residents, the days after the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College inspired them to use their skills to bring the community together, or to raise funds for the families who suffered most. A new wine was made, and T-shirts, stickers and signs carried a symbol that would become a local icon. And through these efforts, funds were raised to pay the costs faced by those whose loved ones were slain or injured.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Artist Justin Troxel had $50 in his pocket the morning after the shooting. He figured he could donate it directly, or he could turn those $50 into 50 signs, sell them for $10 apiece and donate $500.
He designed metal signs in the shape of Oregon, with cutout hearts where Roseburg would be on the map. Once the signs were made, he posted to Facebook that they were available. All 50 were gone within an hour of his post. He knew he needed to make more. As he ramped up production, he first enlisted friends and then found volunteers showing up just to help.
“Once we got into making signs, we didn’t have time to feel. My friends that were helping me, we didn’t have a whole lot of time for emotion. We were busy working,” he said.
His number one concern was to raise money to help the people who had been harmed.
“We can’t help them emotionally, we can’t help them physically, we’re going to help them economically,” he thought.
Ultimately, Troxel would sell enough signs to donate $140,000 to the UCC Strong fund.
It was a 24/7 operation. The signs were cut out at The Steel Outlet in Roseburg, and cleaned and painted at Troxel’s home in Roseburg. As soon as the first 50 were sold, Troxel brought back another 60, and welded and painted them. They sold 110 the first evening, and had to turn away 30 to 40 people when those ran out.
Then, just as they had at Serigraphics, volunteers started showing up out of the blue.
An elderly couple in their 60s drove down from Eugene, just to help. People he knew and people he’d never met began cleaning signs, painting signs, selling signs.
“We had a little line going. By that point we were cutting and welding signs together out at The Steel Outlet and sending pickup loads at a time to the house,” he said.
They started making them in different sizes. Exactly how many signs they made, Troxel doesn’t know. At 7,000, he stopped counting.
Hundreds lined up down the street outside Troxel’s home waiting to buy the signs. Some paid more than the asking price. One man wrote a check for $250 and took home a $10 sign.
Steel Outlet donated much of the material and the time to cut out the signs. Most of the signs were cut out by Mike Smith of The Steel Outlet, but FCC Furniture of Wilbur and Far West Steel of Eugene also contributed. Home Depot and Lowe’s gave Troxel every single can of green and white paint they had. Then Home Depot started shipping cases of green paint from stores outside the area. They set up an account, donated gloves and handles, tape and respirators, even halogen lamps so they could work through the night.
“I couldn’t tell you how many restaurants brought food to us. Dutch Brothers several mornings showed up with cases of coffee,” Troxel said.
So many people donated time, food, coffee, materials, that it wouldn’t be possible to list them all here. Troxel’s act of kindness had spurred many more.
All he could think was, “I hope it helps.”
“Never in a million years would I have thought that something, an idea that I came up with, would have gone so big,” he said.
I AM UCC
The day after the shooting, the Ford Family Foundation contacted Oregon Serigraphics, a T-shirt printing business in Roseburg. Owner Steph LaFleur recalled they were asked if they could print about 500 shirts. The next day, they were asked for another 1,000. In the end, they would produce 8,900 shirts, bearing the outline of Oregon, with a heart over Roseburg and the words, “I am UCC.”
Everyone seems eager to give someone else credit for coming up with this symbol. LaFleur said it came from stickers designed by Ray Bartram, then with Seven13 design studio. Bartram said it was brought to him from Larry Safley of Umpqua Valley Arts Association, and Max Gimbel of the Ford Family Foundation. Safley said it was a group effort.
Safley said the design was a natural extension of the “I am UCC” advertising campaign the college had been using at the time. Suddenly, we were all ready to say we were UCC, and the design became a symbol of solidarity within the community and even beyond.
“It really applied to everybody at that time,” Safley said.
Bartram said altogether the studio put out about 10,000 stickers.
“It could have been more than 10,000. I stopped counting at some point,” he said.
He still sees many of the stickers around.
“It’s a good message regardless, and I’m thinking they’re going to be around for a long time. It’s just one of those things that kind of united the community, and it helped maintain that sense of pride and support for the college,” he said.
It was that sticker design the Ford Family Foundation brought to Serigraphics.
LaFleur said by day three it was clear that 1,500 T-shirts weren’t going to be enough.
So Serigraphics kept going. The small company’s six employees worked 12-to-14 hour days for 10 days straight. Employee Brandon Smith single-handedly printed each of the T-shirts. That alone was magical, LaFleur said, but there was more to come. People started turning up to pick up T-shirts, and staying to help. They folded T-shirts and packed boxes. They brought casseroles.
“We are a very small community,” LaFleur said. “Everyone was touched by this one way or another.”
The shirts were given away for free. LaFleur recalled one mother who pulled up with a car full of kids, and just $10 to spend. She said she wanted one shirt, and she couldn’t afford to buy one for each family member.
“We said no these are free. She broke down and cried,” LaFleur said.
Smith said the T-shirts helped with community building and transcending political divides.
“It was one thing I knew I could do for sure that would actually have an impact,” he said. “A T-shirt can mean a whole lot to somebody.”
RED, RED WINE
Abacela Winery owner Earl Jones had left Umpqua Community College not long before the Oct. 1 shooting took place.
He was driving north on I-5 heading to Eugene to show a Spanish intern the University of Oregon.
“Just about the time we got into Eugene, I got a call on my cell phone and it came over on Blue Tooth in the car. And it was a reporter from CNN in New York, Rafael somebody was calling to see if I was OK, who was injured and what was happening at UCC,” Jones recalled.
Jones was shocked. It was the first he’d heard of it, and it made him feel that no one is immune, even in a rural area, from a nut who goes on a rampage.
After he returned home, he kept thinking about what Abacela could do to help.
“Well, we could bottle a wine and sell it and we’ll have the proceeds go to the people that were killed and wounded, and that would be of help,” he said.
So they bottled a red wine called Tempranillo, and blended in a couple of other grape varieties to give it a unique taste. Then they advertised online that the wine was available and the proceeds would go to help people who had been wounded, and families of those who had been killed.
The wine sold out in one day.
“Much of it was sold outside the state of Oregon to people who were in our wine club...We actually had to hold some back toward the end of the day at about 3 o’ clock to be sure locals got it,” he said.
They raised $18,000.
“It really made us feel good. It felt like we’d accomplished a little something,” he said.