Riverside High School hosts community healing event and fundraiser for wildfire victims at first home football game

Sep. 1—Riverside High School fans flooded the stands at the school's first home football game of the season Friday night, donning blinding red T-shirts and painting their faces in the school's colors at a fundraiser and community healing event for wildfire victims held at the game.

Students, staff and community members unaffiliated with RHS swarmed to the game, which saw increased attendance following the devastating Oregon Road fire that consumed around 11,000 acres near the town of Elk. Many came out solely for the fundraiser to support neighbors affected by the fires. In a small-town community, nearly everyone knows someone who's lost a home to the fire.

"We wanted to come and show our support, do what we can for our community," said Jessie Schafer, Elk resident and district employee. "It's just showing school spirit, showing community spirit, giving what little we can."

Proceeds raised through T-shirt sales, concession sales and donations went toward the Innovia Foundation's Elk Community Wildfire Fund, which will be used to help fire victims rebuild after losing homes. A committee formed in Elk will determine how the funds are being distributed, with priority to those who've lost their homes and other properties.

Other than offering financial support, the event was an opportunity for healing.

"The entire community has been anxious and hurting because of it, so just being together, laughing, talking, crying together, all of that is really just therapeutic in nature," Riverside Superintendent Ken Russell said. "Combining it with something a lot of people like, a football game, and it's a beautiful day. We've got some good music going, and who doesn't like free food?"

Longtime Chattaroy resident Becka Bruce, who graduated from RHS in 2001, said she didn't see herself returning to her alma mater for a football game, but given the fire, she relished the chance to reconnect with her old teachers and counselors in the stands of Friday's game.

"It's funny, because I never wanted to come back to Riverside or really participate in anything," Bruce said. "But I feel like the older I get, the more I value community and just doing what we can."

RHS sophomores Payton Lundgren and Ryder Howard watched the game from the sidelines. Howard, who's on the junior varsity team, leaned on a pair of crutches after he was injured during practice.

"I wish I could be out there, but I love seeing them play," Howard said.

Lundgren is a baseball player. He said football is a big deal at Riverside, though Friday's turnout for the JV game that began before varsity players took the field was bigger than he'd seen in the past, likely due to the community event prior.

"People have been putting it on social media and spreading the word a lot," Lundgren said.

The event drew sponsorship from Gesa Credit Union, which bought each of the 1,500 seats in the stands so football fans could attend for free. Attendees could also grab slices of complimentary pizza, purchased by the school's booster club, to be reimbursed by D.A. Davidson. The Salvation Army also parked a canteen outside the field, distributing snacks and beverages for free. Avista and STCU each donated $10,000 to the fund for wildfire victims .

Elena Perry's work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.