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Oct 10
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Retrospective: Disaster Response

Jackie on Main Street in Jamestown, September 2013, photo by Steve Edelstein

Jackie on Main Street in Jamestown, September 2013, photo by Steve Edelstein

Reflecting on the Response to the Flooding in Colorado One Year Ago
article by Calryn Aston, Boulder, CO
photos by Steve Edelstein

It took a little over a week of concentrated effort for the Boulder Shambhala Center (BSC) to host an emergency food distribution weekend for residents of Jamestown Colorado, an area hit very hard in the 2013 record-breaking flood in Colorado. The flood sparked a conversation between Calryn Aston, a resident of Jamestown, and Steve Jewell, Regional Commander of the Gesar Arm of the Dorje Kasung about how the Dorje Kasung might assist with distribution of a food donation for the displaced residents of Jamestown.

Mike Glass, manager at a local Whole Foods (as well as the manager of the BSC kitchen) had checked in with Calryn to ask what was needed in Jamestown. Cal shared that many of her neighbors lost their homes, their cars, and their livelihood. A beloved member of the Jamestown community was the first casualty in the flood. Because most of the town had been evacuated and housed across the Front Range, people had not had a chance to connect and grieve together. Cal thought that a donation of good food could help residents of this small close-knit mountain community come together, share stories, and simply feel the caring of strangers as they grappled with basic needs in the wake of the flood. Mike agreed and later that day emailed to say he had $5,000 worth of food on the way to his store in Superior for Jamestown residents.

Jamestown is a community that is home to roughly 300 residents. The local community hub, The Merc, is a gathering place for food, music, and conversation. During the food distribution weekend, the Boulder Shambhala Center became the “downlander” hub for these familiar Jamestown activities. In Jamestown, people rely on and help their neighbors as a matter of course, and friendships are built around a love of the natural world, music, and working side-by-side in good times and bad. But suddenly, this close-knit community was spread throughout the Front Range – a particularly painful hardship for people who are accustomed to sharing their lives on a daily basis. It seemed a good idea to incorporate a space for people to socialize as well as pick up some much needed help with groceries.

Mike didn’t know exactly when the food would arrive at his store, so when he called the following week to say five pick-up trucks worth of food were ready and needed to be transported from Superior to Boulder, Margery Lynch coordinated the transportation effort with less than a day to pull it together. Food was transported, stored by type, and secured in preparation for two-day distribution by another member of the Dorje Kasung, Blake Thomson.

Throughout all of this moment-to-moment preparation, Shelly Webb (Membership and volunteer coordinator) and Lucy Larbalastier (then Assistant to Practice and Education) were available to schedule, offer suggestions, support, and physical exertion to make the effort run smoothly.

After checking in with the Jamestown mayor, Cal posted to the Jamestown community bulletin board inviting all residents to come to the Shambhala Center on one of two days for tea, cookies, music, conversation, and a free grocery run.

If we are working together, then the wealth comes up. The energy comes together and it’s a joy and it’s our own creation.
~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Steve Jewell worked to organize and oversee a Kasung staff for the distribution days. Members of the Gesar Arm in Boulder stepped up to staff the event in record time. (See article about that here.)

Mr. Kinane (A kasung/desung who helped people with “shopping” and loading) shared, “Jewell Rupon offered a vision of the Dorje Kasung being of service in a larger context at a time of defined need, and offering service in practical terms. It is important for me to collaborate when circumstances allow, and even encourage, such participation. I am grateful for the invitation, and the opportunity to serve.”

When the weekend arrived, the community room was re-organized to accommodate tables laden with food, empty boxes and bags for residents to transport food home, and chairs and tables arranged so that dispersed Jamestown community members could gather and check in with one another.

About a third of the families in Jamestown were able to make their way to the center over the course of the two-day event. They expressed gratitude for our generosity as well as deep appreciation for the “peaceful,” “non-institutional,” and “beautiful” environment we offered.

Several people had been to the center before and asked where they might meditate. Others, new to the center, expressed interest in what happened at the center and mentioned that they would like to return when their lives settled down a bit.

Throughout the weekend, the Dorje Kasung hauled food, set up the environment, greeted people at the door, helped with food selection, and loaded groceries into cars with kindness and warmth.

Ms. Jessyca Goldstien, who staffed the event said,

My aspirations for helping were quite simple. I wanted to help and here, an opportunity to do that was provided. I like to work with kasung and I don’t get the chance because of my job. I love that the kasung were the ones called upon. My impressions of the day were that people were very grateful and full of spirit. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity for neighbors to see each other again and check in. Plus, the fact that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) was there seemed very helpful.

We discovered in the process of setting up this food drive that FEMA monitors local communications in order to meet people where they can in order to help disaster victims access the help they need. Many residents of Jamestown expressed appreciation for an opportunity to have these sensitive conversations in an environment that felt “non-institutional” and private, and the FEMA counselors seemed to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere as well.

On Sunday, the staff of Level I (happening concurrently with the food distribution) brought offerings from their closing celebration to share with the Jamestown folks. The vegan chocolate cake was particularly appreciated!

Khenchen Margo Shean reflected after the event,

I was inspired to jump in because I thought it was a wonderful way to offer service and lungta to the greater community. It felt like an opportunity to give, with a straightforward agenda. The agenda was not only to provide food for the Jamestown community, but also to show them we are a tight community who is thinking of them, and want to offer the strength we hold in our society, to their society. It was so heartwarming to meet the people from Jamestown and offer them my love and support in a simple way, without any dogma, just human contact. Everyone I met who was involved in the Jamestown flood had so much integrity and heart. I felt lucky to be involved.

Shastri Kobelt, who helped with the food distribution, wrote after returning to Switzerland,

Jamestown Main Street , September 2014 , photo by Steve Edelstein

Jamestown Main Street , September 2014 , photo by Steve Edelstein

I could describe the events or the people that visited that afternoon and with whom I had a brief connection: weathered mountain men, pregnant women, young couples, all arriving from their devastated mountain town with wide eyes and leaving with full shopping bags and broad smiles. But the most astonishing experience of the afternoon was that my feeling of how the Shambhala Center changed. In a subtle and powerful way this was not the place where we attract seekers to come and do our courses and weekends or friends to join with the community for a celebration. It was a place that offered a simple helpful service to the wider community. And in that radiance, I felt the center was more connected to the land and the people than I had experienced before.

In addition to these offerings, Erika Berland, a local body-worker and Shambhala teacher, offered a half-day workshop to help people work with trauma from the four day ordeal they experienced during the height of the flood, and Samgyum Valerie Lorig offered a three week-long support group for Jamestown residents. Sign up sheets for both of these offerings were present at the food distribution day and the workshops were generously hosted by the Boulder Shambhala Center.

Another group of Shambhala volunteers gathered child-specific holiday gifts from families in the Boulder community and offered these to children in Jamestown when December rolled around. The thank you cards that came to the center from these children and their families were delightful!

Cal Aston shared that,

Throughout the experience of the flood itself, the helicopter evacuation, the community meetings, the food distribution and workshops, I have discovered that many of my neighbors meditate; more than I knew about before the flood. In conversations, folks shared that, ‘if not for practice, I don’t know how I would have come through this.’ Our Jamestown multi-sangha aspiration –made a week after the flood– is to add meditation to the food and conversation pieces we already do so well – when we are able to return home.

We can now report that this happened when Cal was able to return home in Mid-March of 2014. The Jamestown meditation group now meets weekly and has started a larger monthly gathering called, “Contemplative Recovery” where we meet to share our experiences in the context of meditation, dyads, and writing.

Two days after the food distribution weekend in October 2013, Cal Aston found herself loading the remaining donations into her car to take to a Jamestown community meeting in Boulder the next night. It was dark in the alley behind the center and there was much to be loaded. As if by magic, two Dorje Kasung appeared to help finish loading the car.

To read Steve Jewell’s letter to the Dorje Kasung please click here.

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2 responses to “ Retrospective: Disaster Response ”
  1. Erika Berland
    Oct 10, 2014

    Such an inspiring article, Cal. Thank you so much for encouraging our BSMC to grow in so many ways.

  2. Beautiful article….thank you!

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