GREAT FALLS – Over the Labor Day weekend, Catherine Rafanello, an airman at Malmstrom Air Force Base, decided to haul cattle and horses and donate hay to help people affected by the summer’s devastating wildfires.

She posted a message on Facebook to get the word out. “I had not contacted any of the relief agencies that were set up yet,” Rafanello said. “I got hundreds and hundreds of people sharing my post.”

Rafanello quickly became the point of contact for a Great Falls group that was already collecting donations in Townsend.

Rafanello asked Kristie Albers and Halie Edwards to help, and Albers spread the word through social media and requesting more donations.

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“Even if they couldn’t help with our donation drive then maybe they would start something on their own,” Albers said. “You know, inspire them to help people in their own area.”

The group collected hay, fencing supplies and even dog food. The supplies were dropped off in Townsend. The total amount of donated goods came to 10 tons of hay and about a $1,000 worth of fencing materials.

“We had seven trucks, six trailers were full of hay,” Edwards said. “We ended up having seven round bales and we had the rest of the trucks were full top-to-bottom of square bales.”

The group in Townsend has 19 semis full of donations to be dropped off at several locations, although the money the Great Falls group raised will be donated directly to people affected by the Lodgepole Fire.

“In seven days we gathered all of this,” Rafanello said. “We were all still working and we also had to go to work and do our normal day jobs so it was incredible to see everybody come together. That was the coolest thing about all of it.”

The group said every person they talked to wanted to help in some way.

MTN and the Montana Community Foundation have partnered to create the Montana Wildfire Relief Fund. On Saturday. MTN will air a one-hour special program to focus on the 2017 fire season. The program will include the need for more firefighters and funding while highlighting the people and businesses affected by this summer’s fire season. The program will air at 6 p.m. on all MTN stations, including KTVH and KXLH.

GIVE BY MAIL: Mail your check payable to the Montana Community Foundation, PO Box 1145, Helena, MT 59624-1145. Write “Montana Fire Relief Fund” in the memo line.

GIVE ONLINE: Click here

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