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Tribute reaffirms that slide survivors are ‘Oso Strong’

As Oso firefighter Rob Fisher makes his way up the food line, Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper and his son Landon weigh their buffet options during the Oso Community Chapel’s April 26 tribute meal. - Kirk Boxleitner
As Oso firefighter Rob Fisher makes his way up the food line, Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper and his son Landon weigh their buffet options during the Oso Community Chapel’s April 26 tribute meal.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

OSO — The Oso Community Chapel came alive with affirmations that the surrounding community was “Oso Strong” on the evening of Saturday, April 26, as U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene joined Oso Community Chapel Pastor Gary Ray and others in sharing a meal and some meditations upon the March 22 Oso slide.

Pastor Timothy Moore, of the Restoration Church in Mukilteo, began his address to the packed tent by thanking the first responders for their contributions to the recovery work.

“In honor of your efforts to serve the community, you get to go first,” Moore said, gesturing to the open buffet line. “You’ve been in our hearts and prayers, so allow us to serve you.”

Before the nearly 100 guests in attendance began lining up for the catered pot luck dinner, Moore prayed that everyone present would be able to know comfort and healing from the tragedy that had brought them all together.

“Please, Lord, help put together the broken pieces of ourselves that we put before you,” Moore said. “Let this be a love feast, whose fellowship strengthens our hearts and minds.”

The 286th Engineer Company of the Washington Army National Guard, which had been working the slide site since Sunday, April 20, wound up arriving late to the very meal where seats had been reserved for them as special guests of honor, but they received a standing ovation upon their entrance to the tent all the same.

“All of you, from the first responders to the firefighters, actually led this recovery effort,” said 1st Lt. Brandon Buehler, of the 286th Engineer Company. “We’re just humbled to be able to support you.”

“So many people have come out here to help our community that I’ve been overwhelmed by the influx,” Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper said. “And yet, you’ve been patient, and kind, and respectful.”

“This tent is really an example of what ‘Oso Strong’ is all about, and you’re all part of it,” DelBene said. “Every one of you has helped out an incredible community, and it’s been an honor for me to work with you. This is truly inspirational.”

Pastor Paul Stoot Sr., president of the Washington State Baptist Convention, brought not just kind sentiments, but also a check for $5,000 to aid the Oso community in its transition, with the promise of more funds to come.

“When we heard of this tragedy, we said to ourselves, ‘These are our brothers and sisters, and we have to help,’” Stoot said. “As our President said, when times get tough, we look out for each other. We get each other’s backs. We recover, and rebuild, and come back stronger. We’re sticking with you, because this tragedy affects all of us, across the country.”

Ray followed Stoot by reporting that he’s received hundreds of letters from throughout America, and one that moved him the most came from a prisoner.

“He sent $4.80, because that was all he had to give,” Ray said.

Matt Stinson performed an original musical composition, dedicated to those who had been lost to the slide, and recalled how his great-grandmother had been born in a tent in Oso in 1910, before Ray delivered the evening’s closing words.

“When I see this many people, it feels like I should be taking an offering,” Ray joked, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd, before he told them, “But now is not the time to get money. Now is a time for healing. It’s so good to see so many good people, all of you helping hands. I see great people who were drawn to this land because of its majestic beauty, and though we’ve weathered tragedy, it’s brought out the best in us. The mountain came down, but the people rose up, and the flood waters have been symbolic of the rising stories of heroism. This tragedy didn’t wipe Oso off the map. It put us on the map. Rather than shutting down and giving up, I’ve seen us stand up, and stand tall, and draw leaders from our state, our region and our nation, because we are,” he led the crowd in a chorus of the words, “Oso Strong.”

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