How to Manage Charitable Donations Post-Disaster with Jake Bentz
“It’s either you have resiliency or you don’t. It’s more of a character trait. But I think the willingness to try something new and be wrong is probably my closest definition of that word. A lot of willingness to try—that’s exciting!” -Jake Bentz
Charitable giving surges during periods of natural disaster. In a time when the heartstrings are being tugged and people are donating like crazy, it is easy to be overwhelmed with donations.
Unfortunately, most items donated to shelters do not suit the immediate needs of survivors. As a result, donations often do not reach their intended target. Hence, it is important for organizations to set up stations dedicated to managing donated items following a disaster.
Santiam Hospital’s Donation Distribution Coordinator, Jake Bentz started volunteering in this field as a young 18-year-old. Little did he know that his passion would grow fast and big. Today, he continues to explore possible avenues to offer support in disaster recovery.
In this episode, Jake talks about his work around managing and distributing donations to wildfire survivors, how an influx of donations can cause secondary disaster, and what donations are tagged for immediate needs and which are for long-term recovery. Jake also relates the challenges and benefits of being a young leader and how the younger generation can contribute to disaster response efforts.
If you are someone who is passionate about giving back and supporting causes you are concerned about, this episode is for you!
- 01:05: The Best of Mankind
- 08:47: Service Integration
- 12:13: Donations- Potential Secondary Disaster
- 17:07: How Donations Are Distributed
- 20:26: Donations- For Now
- 27:16: Donations- For Later
- 29:44 The Challenges and Benefits of Being a Young Leader
- 33:03: The Younger Generation and Resiliency
A disaster is an opportunity for generosity, but sometimes this can turn into a secondary disaster as most donated items do not meet the needs of the survivors. How can this be avoided and what lesson can we learn about giving donations? Let’s hear from @JenGrayThompson and Jake Bentz, @SantiamHospital’s Donation Distribution Coordinator. #Recover #Rebuild #Reimagine #NorthBay #podcast #wildfire #disaster #AfterTheFire #Season3 #HowToDisaster #charitabledonations #resiliency #tragicoptimism #secondarydisaster #immediateneeds #teamwork #emergentleaders #youngleaders
11:57: “It’s actually the best problem to have, as we’ve been trying to differentiate between the disaster and the normal services and bringing in more people into our long-term recovery group.” -Jake Bentz
12:24: “Emergent leaders can be the secret sauce to recovery.” -Jennifer Thompson
12:45: “For many, if not most communities, donations turn into a secondary disaster. People’s urge to give often overshadows people’s need to receive.” -Jennifer Thompson
13:30: “The secret sauce is the people… I couldn’t have done a single thing without any of the support of people so much more experienced than me.” -Jake Bentz
16:45: “What people don’t know is that a lot of donations end up in the landfill. And it’s not because they weren’t nice. It’s because what people need is pretty specific.” -Jennifer Thompson
18:06: “It’s a hard thing to keep your nose on distribution especially as people are all over the place or displaced. Everyone’s recovery goes at a different timeline.” -Jake Bentz
18:47: “The last thing about distribution that’s been so important to me to learn is the infusion of new energy from people…. It’s definitely a team effort and it’s who has the energy and the capacity.” -Jake Bentz
30:12: “Something that I’ve noticed that’s super big about me being young is that, I have a little bit more neuroplasticity like jumping into some computer thing and figuring it out pretty quick tends to not be so much of a challenge for me. And that’s been the biggest thing that we can serve people with technology.” -Jake Bentz
31:58: “Being willing to try is my biggest takeaway from it. If you could show up and be willing to try and help out.” -Jake Bentz
32:37: “The biggest gift from age has just been the ability to learn new things quickly.” -Jake Bentz
33:18: “It’s either you have resiliency or you don’t. It’s more of a character trait. But I think the willingness to try something new and be wrong is probably my closest definition of that word. A lot of willingness to try—that’s exciting!” -Jake Bentz
33:55: “We’re not looking for perfect, and we’re not looking to undo but we can certainly attend to the problem in front of us.” -Jennifer Thompson
36:09: “In disaster, most of us are amateurs. It’s very unusual for people to walk in there knowing what they’re doing. ‘I don’t know’ is very powerful. It leaves you room to learn.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jake Bentz is the Distribution Coordinator at Santiam Hospital. Jake found his passion in helping people and supporting them through recovery. During the 2020 Santiam Fire, Jake supervised the inventory, shipment, and distribution of donations to wildfire survivors. Today, he still continues to build relationships with organizations that support disaster recovery. Jake is an effective communicator, thorough helper, and understanding advocate. As a young leader, Jake makes sure that he always has time for volunteer work all while finishing his degree.
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Jennifer Gray Thompson: My name is Jennifer Gray Thompson, and I am the CEO of After The Fire. Welcome to the podcast, How to Disaster, recover, rebuild and reimagine. In this podcast, we bring you the very best practices, best hearts, and great ideas from other disaster affected communities. Thank you for joining us.
Once again, welcome to the podcast, Jacob Bentz.
Jacob Bentz: Thank you, Jennifer, thank you for having me. So happy to be here today.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I was really impressed with everybody that we met in Santiam Canyon, you’d have so many incredible leaders there. And really, one of the stories that I told at the beginning when I was introducing you is, sitting in that meeting at Santiam Disaster Services and looking around, part of my brain, though, left the meeting just to look at the wonder of the donation setup that you had created. I want to get into that today specifically, and also to talk about what it means to be an emergent leader in a disaster and the tremendous difference a person can make. But I’d like to start off by telling us your fire story.
Jacob Bentz: Yeah, well, our fire story, I live personally, our fire was in the Santiam Canyon. I don’t necessarily live in the Canyon, I live about five, six miles outside of what people from around here would classify as the Canyon over a big hill. And so we did evacuate the night of and went up just to have some family. And while we were staying there, we started to see the videos come in, pictures and phone calls from people. And we were sitting up in Portland and I was just thinking of some way that maybe we could get back down and start helping out because a donation center had opened up right in sublimity right on the highway, right out of the canyon. And I had some connections there for my dad being in a service organization at one point. And so I think about two or three days later, we left and I came back and I showed up one day. I got an email from someone saying we were going to make gift baskets for first responders or something.
And I showed up, I walked in, and there’s like 70 people.Bear in mind, this is COVID time. So it was like a shocking thing to see, and there’s like 70 people in this room. It’s just this big event hall, just tables and stuff. And so that was like three days after the fire. And I think for the next 40 days straight with a couple of nights off in between, I was there with a lot of awesome people trying to make sense of the situation and organized donations. And people were coming in, survivors were coming in to get things, and things were going out, and trucks would come in and the high school would would be there to help sort things. And it was just like this big, I think I actually heard you say this first when you visit us, like the best of humankind was like, it was there, it was totally present, and it was this total synergy. And it’s really funny because, obviously, that was a terrible, terrible month for so many people that we are so honored to help. But for us working, there was just, we were so amazed by the amount of phone calls we took and the amount of donations and all this. And now, like 18 months later, since we’re all still working together, we kind of talk about it. Like we’re a bunch of like washed up four year olds, and like a hometown bar talking about like the 85 title game. I have to like to laugh when we talk about it just because we’re so foreign to that time, and that just kind of progressed on and kept going. So that’s kind of the right out of the park.
I remember I had a specific moment, I guess it must have been a couple days in, somebody showed up with this huge truck and we filled it with stuff. And we were going to drive up the Canyon to another center that was open and give it out, because that’s kind of where people, more and more was more concentrated group of people there and they needed water, clothes and stuff. And I remember, can anyone drive this big truck. I mean, it’s got air brakes. It’s like a 40 foot box truck or something, and I had no idea how to drive it, but nobody raised their hand. And so I had driven like a truck half that size so I was like, hey, me, Jacob, I can drive and I hop in with a buddy of mine, and we drive all the way up. I was super scared. We got to the donation center, we unloaded it, and the guy actually complimented me on my driving. But what I remember the most is when I got out of that truck. We are in the town. And so that was the first time I really, that’s where I kind of think of my first story is this moment of getting out of the truck and seeing the ashes, and seeing all the people and just kind of like the commotion of what was happening. It’s funny, it was like a whisper like, right behind me something was like, feels like we’re gonna be here a while. And it’s interesting, because at that point, I had just been volunteering and I was planning on going down to school in two weeks. And here I am–
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Not everybody knows though how old you are, so you might want to just let people know that too because other things that I’m excited about having, I did not mention that part yet.
Jacob Bentz: Yeah, I am the wise old age of 19 and like (inaudible) years old. So here I am just doing my best. But yeah, so just the total moment of like, this is gonna be a little bit, and so here I am. So funny, down the road to think back about that, but–
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We’re gonna leave for college, so you were 18 when this happened.
Jacob Bentz: Recently 18, yeah.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And you had just graduated from high school, which of course also was done in, it was like your one of the pandemic, so there was a lot going on. So you find yourself 18 and about to go off to college, but then you don’t go. So what in your fire story contributed to you putting off college?
Jacob Bentz: Well, yeah, I served, volunteering it with COVID. Thankfully, the classes were completely online so I didn’t have to choose right away, and I kept volunteering. And about a month and a half, I sent an email to our lovely, one of our program directors, Melissa. I kind of met her once way, way back and I was like, hey, my school is starting, I really love coming in. As they’re like, do you need capacity? Do you need to hire me? And just kind of a shot in the dark. And like two weeks later, I didn’t hear anything. I just assumed, okay, gonna keep doing my classes, keep volunteering during the week and whatnot. But she emailed me back saying, can you start the next day? And so I started and I was doing both full time. I was taking 18 credits and doing the full time job. And after, I’m sure a lot of people who’ve done full time school, full time work, it’s not easy, especially my first time being in college. And so I got to March of 2021? Yeah, about a year ago, and potential opened up for me to stay for even longer to the point I’m at now. And I just decided that school will be there. And that this disaster at some point, it’s gonna wrap up in this experience, and this awesome way to give back won’t be there forever. So I went with the latter. I went with staying in town.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I actually, I love that. I love your noting that this, actually love the part where you washed up 4 year olds. I’m sitting here, 52. No, no, it’s hilarious. I am not offended, whatsoever. Just so, I find it charming. But I totally, I don’t think that I fully understood why people would romance or wax on about war, necessarily. Because when you haven’t fought in a war, all you do is you see the destruction of it. But it’s doing that beautiful human experience that disaster can actually often do, almost always to a point of all of them where there are these beautiful moments of human interaction. So I think it’s so sweet that you did that. What is it about that human interaction, how humans showed up for each other that made it sort of almost an addiction, or almost a compulsion to keep serving after?
Jacob Bentz: Yeah. No, that’s the perfect way to describe it. It was just the fact that I couldn’t explain like, just things kept popping up. Like every time we needed something, it would show up. Like every single time. And even to this day, it happens. I’m doing deliveries kind of on my own most these days. I’ll go out there delivering something to someone’s new house and I’m like, I have no idea how I’m gonna get this refrigerator up five steps, like it’s me and a hand truck, and then like a truck will pull out two random guys like, hey, could you use some help? Like every single time that this type of thing happens. Even more so in the beginning. I think our team was these awesome people that I had just gotten thrown into like a blender with almost, and we really stuck together, and that was big too.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: You do have a really amazing team. For those of you who are not familiar, Santiam Canyon is sort of in Central Oregon near Salem. Can you talk about the model of the city and who you work with? Because I do think that that’s worth mentioning before we go into the details about managing donations.
Jacob Bentz: Yeah, so before our fire, Santiam Hospital, which is who I work for had kind of set up this program called Service Integration. And so they use the school districts as kind of boundaries, and they formed these three service integration teams. And the teams were basically people in the community, nonprofit businesses individuals who wanted to get involved with identifying unmet needs, finding solutions and doing it all while working together. And so I kind of knew about it while I was in high school, actually. But coming into a fire, it’s like, oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what we need to do right now. So we had this network setup. And as I mentioned before, Melissa, she was the coordinator of it. And so when the disaster happened, people kind of already knew our phone number. And so for them, the donation center and the hospital were kind of separate for a little bit at the very beginning. The calls would come in to the hospital and to Melissa’s line and they go, hey, we need a place to stay tonight. Hundreds of calls a day and they started integrating that with the donations that have popped up. And pretty soon, we merged the services in those community partnerships. We’re already there before the fire with the Service Integration Teams. And so that’s like, probably goes away either as I understand it kind of the way our long term recovery groups are supposed to run. And so it’s really unique that we had that set up, and it’s just made it a whole lot easier. And we’ve just gotten a lot of service out to people. And the other hospital is the hub of it for sure, and that’s who employs us and then kind of facilitates our disaster team for sure.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And to let people know, this is a very rural area in Santiam Canyon. Four towns were affected, and really, fair a lot of damage. But the hospital, rural hospitals and rural schools play an outsized role in everything from resiliency to service delivery of essential things that we all need health care and education, of course. We were very impressed by the visits is what it’s called, that’s what I keep thinking in my brain. We actually call it out as a best practice that we would wish for other communities to engage with that practice and that model ahead of time, and we will be having Melissa on the podcast as soon as we get that scheduled. So we’ll go more deeply into that. But I just really want to call that out specifically, because it’s an amazing model. And it sort of did what a lot of communities, they go through a disaster, and they set up an integrative team after through an LTRG or something like that. And what they find is that they then have to build those relationships where everyone is incredibly stressed and traumatized from a disaster. The beauty of the Service Integration teams in Santiam Canyon is having that since 2017 when that was implemented. And then in 2020, when you had your mega fire, it actually sort of skipped the line, and a lot of ways in this area of resiliency that empowered and enabled your emergent leadership, and many other people who stood up and they’re like, we think we can help. And there was already a model in place, and we’d love that for you.
“It’s actually the best problem to have, as we’ve been trying to differentiate between the disaster and the normal services and bringing in more people into our long-term recovery group.” -Jake Bentz
Jacob Bentz: Yeah, well, thank you so much. It’s actually kind of been like the best problem to have is we’ve been trying to differentiate between like the disaster and the normal services, and bringing in more people into our Long-Term Recovery Group, it’s been a good problem to be like, Well, we already do this, why do we have to reinvent the wheel? It’s been awesome.
“Emergent leaders can be the secret sauce to recovery.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: That is awesome. So I want to, sorry, Sorry, I interrupted you. I’m sorry. I just want to make sure that, so you come in to volunteer, we always say that emergent leaders, which are people who were not in that position before can be the secret sauce to recovery there. It’s truly remarkable to see who steps up, and into certain spaces who has the capacity, and who’s able to do that, you have figured out donations in disaster. And what I told the audience before he came on is, for many, many, if not most communities, donations turned into a secondary disaster burden even on the community, and people’s urge to give often overshadows people’s need to receive. And it’s a very hard thing. Even to this day when we have quite a few fires here in Sonoma County. When I say to people, cash is king, or gift cards are king, but be careful not to be offering people your couch whose homes just burned down, because they often can’t accept that couch or that discount. So take us through your journey of becoming the maestro of a post disaster donation center.
“The secret sauce is the people… I couldn’t have done a single thing without any of the support of people so much more experienced than me.” -Jake Bentz
Jacob Bentz: I’m still trying to figure out how I did anything at all, have any hand of this. But you kind of hit exactly on it. The secret sauce is the people. I know that you guys came into our donation center, and I had gotten it spruced up the morning of for you guys. And so it usually looks like that. But I had done a little organizing, I think, right after the fire. We just had emergent leaders all over the place, and people who had prior experience that just kind of took extra things on. So we had city councilmen, and we had people from fraternal organizations offering up warehouses, trucks and equipment. Because at one point, we were spread out between five locations with donations. I mean, it wasn’t a nightmare, but it was tough, for sure. And we thought about doing a, like a spreadsheet, track every single thing that comes in, every single thing that goes out that didn’t work out, especially with five spots and then all these storage containers. And so I think the biggest thing was having a lot of people on top of it. And I know I was the one with the title distribution coordinator, but I couldn’t have done a single thing without any of the support of people with so much more experience than me. But coming out of the immediate relief stage, like after those first three months, needs changed. We didn’t necessarily start at the beginning, like we kind of knew what the needs were gonna go to, but it’s tough to anticipate. And so keeping the donations managed, it’s tough because we filled a storage container like the first week and I didn’t even know about it.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: With what?
Jacob Bentz: With furniture, couches and beds showed up. We’ve utilized some of it, but I guess it’s just something people don’t think about that, oh, the house burned down, I can’t donate this. It’s like, well, there’s not going to be a house for that to go to for two to five years, at least. And so there’s been constant little things that pop up every so often like, this was not our best (inaudible). The classic one, and give us a hard time all the time. Because everything that our 15 person team does, she used to do by herself, pretty much. Smaller scale, but basically. And so she can do pretty much anything. And her favorite thing is to pick up the phone when it rings. And for someone to have a donation no matter what it is, her favorite thing is to say yes. Jacob will figure it out. I’ll give you his phone number. And so there’s times when I have the classic donations calamity. Like the local store was closing, an antique, none of the antique, but it was like a boutique, I guess, consignment. And so some nice things, a lot of specialty pieces. And that’s not not the greatest fit with us a lot of the time. And so the person from the store called and listed off a lot of the stuff they had, a lot of the stuff was awesome. And so Melissa said: “Yes, definitely, Jacob will show up.”
And so a little bit of miscommunication between us, I thought I had to call them, I didn’t show up, I showed up later that day. And it’s like, oh, my gosh, where am I going to put all this stuff? This is mine. And so I had to be like, alright, Jacob, I know you’re 19, but you need to stand up for yourself, stand up your organization and tell them, hey, I’m sorry, there was a miscommunication. I can really, really only take the things I can use. So yeah, they had like 100 picture frames, pictures with their names on it, which a lot of them were like, really nice stuff. But we have no room to store this, and no effective way to get it out.
“What people don’t know is that a lot of donations end up in the landfill. And it’s not because they weren’t nice. It’s because what people need is pretty specific.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: That’s really important, because people don’t know that a lot of donations end up in the landfill. And it’s not because clothes weren’t nice, furniture isn’t nice, it’s because what people need is pretty specific. And so you want to ask what people need. And I know this sounds crazy, but two or three years later, it’s fine to say to somebody want this couch because that might be the much better time to occur.
Jacob Bentz: No, that’s exactly, and doing distribution, I think the really other important point is my job position gives me like my titles distribution quarter. But distribution is really like my super cathartic break from the really hard things, and it’s the best. It’s the best job ever if you really think about it, because I’m starting to take on more things within our office. And it’s funny when I was just out there in the donation center and they were all up in our modular trailer, I was like, dang, I gotta get into that trailer because they have desks, and they have sodas, and Coca Cola, and I’m out here with my water. And so, of course, I was always welcome. And so now that I have my desk, I’m like, dang, I wish I was out there folding boxes right now. And so I get up and I go full boxes.
“It’s a hard thing to keep your nose on distribution especially as people are all over the place or displaced. Everyone’s recovery goes at a different timeline.” -Jake Bentz
So the biggest secret sauce in our disaster was the fact that we had a funder that decided they wanted to find a distribution coordinator for a year. And it gives me the chance to work with this team, and it gives the team the chance to, okay, let’s make distribution your priority. But it’s kind of a hard thing to keep your nose on distribution especially as people are all over the place or displaced. Everyone’s recovery goes at a different timeline, it’s not a one size fits all by any means. So it’s given the program the chance to have me take on additional things like registering people for services. But when distribution comes up, I can go and I can do it. And so it’s a capacity thing, like I have the time to go organize our donations and the time to deliver things. And so that’s been very, very lucky. We’ve been just so lucky to have the funders. We love the funder. Yeah, yeah, no, the funders are, cash is king, right? Cash is king. And I think that the last thing about distribution that’s been so important to me to learn is infusion of new energy from people. I’m sure it’s just like this in all aspects of the disaster and a lot.
“The last thing about distribution that’s been so important to me to learn is the infusion of new energy from people…. It’s definitely a team effort and it’s who has the energy and the capacity.” -Jake Bentz
But having like a new hire of a disaster case manager come in, 14 months after the disaster and they come up to me and they’re like, have you tried this or this? Like, I think this would be really exciting. And I’m sitting there and honestly, I’m starting to get offended a little bit because like I’m in my head. I’m like, I tried that 10 months ago, it didn’t work. I gave up, and I told myself like, you know what, take a deep breath. It’s not about me. Let’s see if we can. And so that’s been the biggest thing. Our actual director of our long term recovery group didn’t come on until about a year after the fire. And he has just been the biggest, like firecracker of distribution energy, and helping us get building donations out. So my biggest thing was laundry detergent and cleaning supplies for the longest time, but Kevin has really changed it into toilets, sinks and cabinets that come in and help organize and ship those out. So it’s definitely a team effort. And it’s just who has the energy, the capacity.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, I love that. That’s actually very mature of you, and that’s hard for anybody of any age to have a system setup that they have created, and then be open to other people’s ideas, and to see how that might work. So that will serve you your entire life, and I commend you on that because that’s hard for everybody of any age at all. So that’s good. Can you talk to us about what kind of donations do you think in your experience are most needed right in the midst of disaster while the fires are still burning, because fires often burn for many, many days, if not weeks.
Jacob Bentz: So a huge one that I didn’t have a huge hand in is one that I think everyone knows about is food. We at the site, I talked about driving to, they had a local Lions Club, they did three hot meals a day all the way from our disaster, which was Labor Day, up until Thanksgiving Day, and it was free to anyone. And so that was huge. For us, it was interesting that the fire was on Labor Day. And so the season really changed really quick after the fire and it went from blazing summer to our Oregon falls and winters. And so like the huge thing we could never get enough right after were tarps and were tents for, whether it was people, hopefully not, but for supplies, pop up canopies. And then like the super small things such as personal hygiene, things are huge, especially no new ones in cases that we could organize. Yeah, non perishable foods that people could take with them that would store in small spaces, ready to go meals, stuff like that. And yeah, the cleaning supplies were big, and clothing. Yeah, new nice clothing, (inaudible) stuff was huge.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Talk about me NEW, new clothing.
Jacob Bentz: My favorite donation we ever got was Wilco, Local Wilco called me and they had 100 pairs of rubber boots and a bunch of just, it was overstock, but it was new Carhartt stuff. And it was like, oh, my gosh, yeah. Clothing, we had such a fun time with clothing. I think between coming in and going out was at least like 150 pallets of clothes in boxes, and a lot of that was not new. But we actually had great partners who once we said that we can’t use this anymore. They would send a truck and load it up and use it for what they did.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Oh, yeah, that’s pretty unusual. We’re actually going to take a quick break right now. We’re gonna have a little commercial message and we’ll come right back with Jacob Bentz, and we’re talking about how to disaster, how to manage donations.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And we are back, Jacob. So we talked about what was needed right at the beginning of the fire. So we know other things that you mentioned, like new clothes, cleaning supplies. In our experience, gift cards are really helpful. But definitely make sure you’re not giving people gift cards for places that don’t exist around them. We saw that too. You don’t want people to have to travel. And it’s even harder to provide an address because a lot of times, people who are fire affected or have lost their homes, they might be bouncing around to different homes. And so figuring out where that should even be shipped. So shopping online is not as effective after a disaster as one might hope. So really, gift cards are awesome. And water, making sure like you said, we were always amazed by how many people show up to do food. Hot meals are really important. They’re also like an act of love, which is very important. About, say a month or two months post disaster, what sort of requests were you getting from fire survivors and people who lost everything? And how are you matching them up with people who were wanting to give?
Jacob Bentz: Changed for sure. One thing that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention was the generators. And so in the area before the fire, there were a lot of folks staying in full time in trailers and in RVs, it’s kind of common in the area. And so that triples, quadruples, when a fire burns down, that becomes like the default spot for a lot of folks as they get a fifth wheel. And so we had a couple of used generators donated, and that kind of like minutes thinking like, oh, this would be really awesome. And then we had people asking for him. And so we had corporate donations. I think I gave out our last one we had in a box a couple of weeks ago, so that’s 17 months in. I think we got over 150 donated and these are like close to the $1,000 range in price each new, and they’re all new and between different distributors for sure. But that was a huge thing. The corporate came in and was like made it super easy. But as needs change trying to match to individual donors, the sort of things you unnecessarily super think about, like staying in a hotel or staying in an RV, the really simple kitchen supplies and stuff like that was a big thing that needs changed. And people tend to actually have a lot of that stuff that’s in good quality.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So don’t say pots and pans necessarily have to be new. This has to be a very good condition.
Jacob Bentz: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Pots and pans set up to be new. Even a lot of like China sets kept coming in the door at one point and I was a little cautious at first. But a shocking amount of people lost China’s set, all they wanted was a China setback. A lot of times, someone would walk into like, it was almost exactly the same. I don’t know how this happened, but I’m like, was meant to be, your names on it. So this kitchen supplies, yeah, that happened a lot.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: A friend you might like this reminded me of it. Sondra Bernstein who organized a cook, she’s a cookbook author. So she was like, oh, maybe what we could do is I could gather cookbooks. And so people donated cookbooks, so they bought them, or they brought them out of their own cupboards to give. And then she had a day, like eight months after the disaster where she invited her. Well, everything after the disaster seems like it’s long and short all at once. But sometime after the disaster, she had thousands of these cookbooks, and then they organized them. And then people who were fire survivors could come in and get some of their favorite cookbooks, and it meant a lot to them.
Jacob Bentz: So that’s one of the super specific things that you would not think about at all. But someone cooking out of the same cookbook all the time would definitely would appreciate, for sure. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone who lost everything walk into our donation center and go. I didn’t even remember that I had one of those, and it would be on the shelf for them. So a cookbook would be an awesome example of that.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So you are now about 17, 18 months post disaster, and the needs are changing although people do know, well, if you don’t know and you’re listening to this podcast, I don’t know how you don’t know by now. But it takes years to do this, to recover takes years. And so what people need, what are you seeing lately at this stage that people are needing? Because coming out of your second winter post disaster, what do you see them need now?
Jacob Bentz: The biggest thing we asked for donations is gas cards. And so I’m sure it’s like this in most mega fires with displacement. But for us specifically, a lot of folks are staying probably, oh, gosh, it’s hard to quantify the miles. Probably at least 30 miles away a lot of them are. And then lucky us, gas is so cheap right now. Of course, it’s shot up. That’s been our biggest ask, and that’s probably been the one item we’ve gotten the most and gotten the most out of. And so that’s been big. It’s been interesting. There’s been less, I mean, it kind of winds down and goes in spurts. But the generators have been big. And then sort of like building materials. It’s something that I wouldn’t have thought would have been super easy to fit into people’s builds. Like we got a corporate distributor to like 50 palettes, and this was about a year ago. New, but random like cabinets, vanities and toilets. And that’s sure top when someone’s got plans for their house and every couple inches is planned and it’s like, hey, we have this cabinet. Could you use it? But it’s been kind of surprising to see how many people can fit things into there, and it helps out their budget. So that’s been a really helpful thing. And especially the toilets.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: But we’re trying to solve for toilets. So we’re looking at civil toilets, because where you are, in particular, it would change the trajectory of the rebuild for a lot of folks if they didn’t have to pay $40,000 to have their septic tank rehab.
Jacob Bentz: Definitely.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And center, things aren’t even the gold standard at all and how they leak, they are notoriously problematic. They’re not like the best for the environment so we’re trying to get these states to sign on to the idea that maybe rebuilds or even people who are not in rebuilds should be allowed to use compostable choice. But Pam will love that. She’s Pamela Van Halsema from our team will love that. She’s known for toilets.
Jacob Bentz: She will. Yeah.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: She will love that. So one of the things I did want to just cut, make sure that we get in here is you are a young person, you are 19 now, you’re 18 when the fire has happened, talk to you about what it’s like to be really a leader in your community. A, leader, I’m not calling you the only one because you would immediately protest that anyway. Now, you do come from a lot of very impressive people. So do you feel like part of that leadership was just built into you? Or what was that like to step up into that space?
Jacob Bentz: There’s some aspects of it that I think maybe I’ve always had a small propensity to big words for 19.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: The good one though.
“Something that I’ve noticed that’s super big about me being young is that, I have a little bit more neuroplasticity like jumping into some computer thing and figuring it out pretty quick tends to not be so much of a challenge for me. And that’s been the biggest thing that we can serve people with technology.” -Jake Bentz
Jacob Bentz: A great one. I think the biggest thing was having nothing but time there for a little bit and just deciding, what’s the best way to use my time? We kind of talked about the beginning, but it was kind of fun to go volunteer there with my friends, and it turned into this beautiful thing. But something that I’ve noticed down the line that’s been super big about me being young, and this is that, although I worked with so many experienced seasoned colleagues, I might have a little bit more neuroplasticity, like jumping into like some computer thing and figuring it out pretty quick tends to not be so much of a challenge for me. And that’s been the biggest thing that’s gate kept, like how we can serve people’s technology? I mean, it has just been one thing after another.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So in the realm of neuroplasticity. I’m really curious, because you’re around people who are older than you. And obviously, you’ve mentioned that we do, it’s true. Anybody under 30, I totally assume has like an IT Certificate. So because I know you’re not only digital natives, but you’re also not really quite social media natives, but close enough. So very close. Yeah. So those things are actually very unhelpful to an organization to have a diversity of ages and experiences. But in the space of being a leader, so you had the time, you have the neuroplasticity, but did you ever have a time when you came up against somebody who was like, you don’t have to name any names. Somebody who was like, oh, well, maybe you don’t have as much to offer or say because you are of a certain age.
“Being willing to try is my biggest takeaway from it. If you could show up and be willing to try and help out.” -Jake Bentz
Jacob Bentz: Not a ton. I think I’ve been pretty lucky in that regards people been really awesome. But when I first started my last year here, that was something I was really nervous about. I was really nervous about what I would do versus someone who has more experience and sees it differently. So even times now when I’m working, I think about, okay, if they would have hired this person who was doing this before this and had this many years, what would they think to do in this situation? And sometimes, that guides me whether it’s the best decision. But I’ve been very lucky. Just being willing to try is, I think my biggest takeaway from it. It’s like if you can show up and you can give someone your phone number, and they have your name, and they know, and it’s just willing to try and help out. And the team has been so awesome. I mean, I’ve kind of crept into the role of being some, what did I say at the beginning, washed up four years old, not washed out. I mean, look at me, I’m wearing a suede jacket on a Zoom call right now, but I’ve definitely kind of crept into that. And for me, it’s a very interesting 19th year, I’m doing this awesome work. And then outside of work, I’m like sitting in a cave reading books. I feel like almost and trying to figure out what’s going on around me. But yeah, the biggest gift from age has just been the ability to learn new things quickly, for sure.
“The biggest gift from age has just been the ability to learn new things quickly.” -Jake Bentz
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Why do you feel like your generation is going to be particularly resilient to, and I think that you are, we’re all living through extraordinary times. I know, everyone worries about all the children, which of course, I worry, and I don’t want things to be difficult for you. But I also think that we have many generations that are not comfortable with any discomfort, and your generation won’t be one of those.
“It’s either you have resiliency or you don’t. It’s more of a character trait. But I think the willingness to try something new and be wrong is probably my closest definition of that word. A lot of willingness to try—that’s exciting!” -Jake Bentz
Jacob Bentz: Hmm, there’s something there for sure. Resiliency is such an interesting word for me. I feel like there’s a lot of nuance, or lacking a lot of nuance with mental health with that. And it’s like, sometimes I feel like there’s, either you have resiliency or you don’t, or it’s not. So it’s more of a character trait. But I think the willingness to try something new and be wrong is probably like my closest definition of that word. And I would agree, I think there’s a lot of us down here, as short and small as we may be, and as new to this world, there’s a lot of willingness to try. I think that’s exciting.
“We’re not looking for perfect, and we’re not looking to undo but we can certainly attend to the problem in front of us.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that a lot. And it’s something that I was talking about in this other podcast earlier, which is that view of tragic optimism. Like yes, bad things are going to happen, but how are you going to show up to make them better? And the belief that other people will show up alongside of you to also make it better. And we’re not looking for perfect, and we’re not looking to undo, or we can’t go back to the day before, but we can certainly attend to the problem in front of us. And my thought is that I am an optimist, tragic optimist. My thought is that your generation will be able to kind of roll through those things. My hope was a little more ease and innovation too. I love that you keep talking about the importance of just showing up. Where did you get that from? Because it’s so important. I totally agree.
Jacob Bentz: I got it from not showing up and just being totally bummed that I missed out, I guess. So now, I show up everywhere. And I tried to show up five minutes early. That’s my big thing.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Oh, my God, that’s perfect. So I love it. Is there anything today that you wish I would have asked you, Jacob, or that you wanted to share on the podcast?
Jacob Bentz: I might be preaching to the choir, but us, (inaudible), we’re still here and we still need support and still need help. We just haven’t even hit two years yet, and it feels like it’s been a lifetime, and I know a lot of us are tired. And so every time that we see a group, such as After the Fire, come in and affirm us and say, you’re doing the right thing. And you guys, you’re making good progress. It’s really encouraging, so thank you for that. I know when you guys came and got off, took the time to fly up and met with us, I speak for myself and a lot of the team felt this way too. We had never talked to someone who understood what we were going through. It felt like, and it’s so powerful. It’s so powerful, and it translates right down to the service we provide to people. And so thank you for that. People out there, just know that we could still use your help. So go visit our website, please, see what you can do. Yeah.
“In disaster, most of us are amateurs. It’s very unusual for people to walk in there knowing what they’re doing. ‘I don’t know’ is very powerful. It leaves you room to learn.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yes, they should go visit your website, see what they can do. Also follow you on social media. I’m loving the social media and loving telling stories. I like all over them all the time. And it is just about time for us to figure out our return trip. It’s also very gratifying for us to be able to look at people doing extraordinary work. And it’s an honor to say, hey, it’s hard to see, but we see what great work you’re doing. Because a lot of times, you go like, oh, there must be people out here who do this perfectly, or who do either doing this just right. We’re just doing our best over here. We’re all amateurs. But in a disaster, most of us are amateurs. It’s very unusual for people to walk in there knowing what they’re doing. And it’s one of the things I think I like the most about it is there has to be room for growth and an entrepreneurial approach to it. And it’s okay, I say this in my own organizational leadership all the time. I don’t know, it is actually very powerful, and it leaves you room to learn. And so when we see groups like Santiam Disaster Services, and we witness firsthand the kind of work that you’re doing with the heart, then we are inspired and motivated to keep doing the work that we do. So it’s definitely a two way street for sure.
Jacob Bentz: Well, thank you. Thank you for this question. So awesome. You’re like our heroes, so thank you.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We don’t allow heroes or saviors, but we are going to ask you at some point to follow us along to a newly fire effective community, and you’re going to have that same experience where you look across the table and you see someone who’s just telling you what they’re doing. And they don’t know, but you do know, they’re doing a good job. And you know that if we lead with our most humane, most generous hearts, we’re pretty much going to be fine. And we’re going to do the right thing. And then we learn, and I just think it’s really cool that you took this time, I think it’s fine to take a gap year from college. And I think we don’t allow that enough. I love the fact that you’re having this experience with such a young person, and how that will inform you and your development as you go. I think it’s so smart. I just got to tell you that.
Jacob Bentz: Well, thank you. Thank you very much. That’s probably the best decision I’ve made so far, so I’m very thankful for it.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, great. Well, thank you so much, Jacob Bentz for being on the podcast, How to Disaster.
Jacob Bentz: Thank you very much for having me.