As a board member for the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Committee, and having fairly recently lived in northern Japan, I've watched news over the last week with a heavy heart. Death and destruction, catastrophe, looming nuclear disaster … so many people in peril on one side of the Pacific, while life carries on fairly unchanged on the other.
Unchanged, but not apathetic; and it's times like this when I'm most proud to call Hood River home.
In my years at the Hood River News, I've covered a wide variety of fundraising events; and without exception organizers, and beneficiaries, are constantly overwhelmed by the level of support and generosity from the community. This time it's my turn to ask for help, and I have already been beset by the kind hearts of our small town.
In one afternoon, with a couple e-mails and phone calls, more than a dozen businesses donated items or services for the sister city committee's annual Taste of Tsuruta fundraiser and benefit dinner.
This year the committee has decided to give all the dinner's profits to the city of Tsuruta, as a gift of goodwill from the people of Hood River. Tsuruta can then determine how the funds will be used to help with disaster relief.
Aside from ticket sales for the sushi and Japanese food dinner, funds are raised through silent and live auctions and a raffle (see **sidebar*** for more). It's funny; after calling in a few favors and talking to friends at local shops, I realized I'll probably want to bid on most of the things I managed to round up.
In one afternoon Dakine, Big Winds, Discover Bicycles, Full Sail Brewery, 2nd Wind Sports, Columbia Gorge Kayak School, Cascade Kiteboarding, WAAAM, Bryant Pipe and Supply and Northwest Graphic Works all committed to donations for our event.
I'll be gunning for the two-person kayaking tour, the massage vouchers, the bike tune-up and a gift pack from one of the best breweries around.
Oh, and not to be understated is perhaps the most excellent raffle item on our list: An official city parking pass, good for one year, all hours, anywhere in the city, any amount of time. This is the Willy Wonka golden ticket for anyone who works downtown. With a couple more weeks to round up items, and about a dozen other members working to do the same, the unofficial goal of the Sister City Committee is to present $10,000 to Tsuruta on behalf of Hood River.
In addition to a rich culture and history of Japanese Americans in our valley, Hood River has also been in a long-term, long-distance love affair with the city of Tsuruta; where I had the pleasure of living and working among its people for two years.
Although only a few hours by car from the hardest-hit areas of Japan, Tsuruta has been spared major damage from last week's earthquake, the resulting tsunami and the hundreds of aftershocks that have happened since.
That's not to say they are unaffected, however, as many Tsuruta residents have lost relatives and friends, are experiencing rolling power outages, fuel and food shortages and the anxiety of an extremely uncertain and volatile nuclear situation on, or perhaps already over, the edge of disaster.
"Life is trying to continue as normal," wrote Alex Lozowski from Tsuruta. Lozowski, a Hood River native, has been working in the town for more than a year as Hood River's overseas liaison. As part of the sister city relationship, someone from Hood River is always in Tsuruta, living and working as a coordinator of international relations.
"Food and gas are dangerously low; same with kerosene," he reported. "Last night was the first time that it started snowing again, which is worrying for people down south. Everyone I know in town or in neighboring towns is doing their best to conserve power for places that need it.
"Apparently gasoline shortage is a problem all over Northern Japan as the normal transportation routes are reserved for police and emergency vehicles. Food shortages are due to people panicking and stocking up more than is necessary, which has become a problem even in areas south of Tokyo that were unaffected by the Tsunami.
"Day-to-day life continues, and I have faith in the Japanese people to make it through this disaster."