The little snowball that June Noel started rolling down a hill last weekend turned into a big snowball almost overnight.
Now, less than a week later, it’s pretty much an avalanche that amazes her every time she thinks about it – which is every spare minute she has.
Noel’s once-small effort to collect anything from bottled water to tents to help out victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has grown beyond anything she ever imagined.
“It’s pretty much gone statewide,” Noel said Friday, five days after she decided to ask some friends and co-workers if they had any items they could donate.
Now, her little-turned-big campaign has drop-off locations from Kalispell to Darby, and seven in Missoula alone. She’s been contacted by people in Helena, Great Falls and Bozeman who want to help as word spreads about the relief effort Noel has named Big Sky Big Heart.
Two of the larger Missoula locations, Orange Street Food Farm and the Good Food Store, require a daily trip by Noel or one of her volunteers.
“They’re both pretty much a daily pickup,” Noel said. “Otherwise, I’m getting phone calls from them saying, ‘June, we’re overflowing.’ ”
Noel, who moved to Missoula from the Philippines nine years ago, admits she wasn’t prepared for the response once her friends, and co-workers at Washington Companies, began spreading the news about the relief effort.
“I’m just happy it’s happened,” Noel said. “We decided to just do it, and we’d figure everything out later.”
That attitude has worked.
Mitch Waritz stepped up with needed storage space for all the donated items.
On Friday afternoon, Noel finalized a big piece of the puzzle.
When the drive for donations ends next Friday, Modern Machinery will help transport items from some of the outside drop-off locations to Missoula.
And the Montana trucking firm Watkins & Shepard has volunteered to get everything from Missoula to Seattle in time for it to be shipped to the Philippines, along with goods being collected there in a similar drive by Child United, the organization Noel is working with.
“That’s such a relief,” Noel said. “I was starting to think, shoot, we’re going to have to fundraise just to pay for gas. But the company volunteered to do it for us for free. It’s just amazing how good people have been.”
Child United has also provided Noel with instructions on how everything must be packed.
“You can’t just send it off in plastic bags,” said Noel, who plans to start that part of the chore Wednesday, in the evenings after she gets off work, with the help of volunteers already lined up.
The items Montanans are donating will be sent to the Philippines on a cargo ship, and the journey will take a month. Anyone who has seen pictures of the massive destruction caused by the sustained 195 mph winds and 20-foot-high sea surge, and of homeless Filipinos desperately searching for food and water, will understand the donated items will probably be even more welcome a few weeks into the disaster.
Noel’s father and brother still live in the Philippines, but neither was in the direct path of the typhoon. Neither does Noel know anyone personally who was.
But when she started seeing Facebook posts from friends in Manila, where Noel grew up, who were desperately seeking information on family members they couldn’t locate – and seeing the shocking images from places such as Tacloban – she knew she had to do something for her native country.
She just never anticipated it would be this much. The few boxes of items Noel set out Sunday night to collect in Missoula, has turned into a truckload from Montana.
“Everyone’s reaching out,” Noel said. “It’s been amazing.”