The Nicest Place in Oregon: Hillsboro

"The Value of Essential Work"


Where essential workers are given the respect they deserve.

Formally, Fred Foster is not considered a “first responder,” like the doctors, nurses and EMTs on the front lines of fighting COVID-19. He’s a sanitation engineer who is up at three and on the road by four every morning to get to work keeping our homes and streets clean, an “essential worker,” like so many grocery clerks, delivery people and food-processing workers that sometimes get forgotten in the talk of pandemic heroes.

But in Hillsboro one particular dawn, a first responder said good riddance to that distinction. To that nameless policeman, Foster was equally essential to keeping this nation well.

Foster had left for work that morning hoping to find a can of sanitizing spray for his trash-collecting truck so he could stay safe handling other people’s goods. Due to the pandemic, it was sold out most places, but he knew of one to check: WinCo, a local chain and one of the few places open at that hour in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland where Foster works.

But as he approached the entrance, he saw a sign that said the store was only open at that time for first responders and medical personnel. So he was out of luck. As he headed back to his car empty-handed, a sheriff’s deputy stopped him. He commented on Foster’s reflective vest and asked him which trash company he worked for, then thanked him for his service.

“Do you always shop this early?” the officer asked. When Foster told him he’d come for sanitizer but struck out, the deputy told him to stay put and disappeared into the store. A few minutes later, he returned with the sought-after spray. Foster thanked him and asked how much he owed him. The officer wouldn’t take any money.

a country road in hillsboro oregonRick Dalrymple/Getty Images
The sun sets along a country road in Hillsboro, Oregon

“People watch out for each other here,” says Fred’s wife, Karen Foster. With everyone staying home during the pandemic, people have been throwing out a lot more stuff, which translates to longer working hours for Fred. “He’s only home for about an hour before he goes to bed,” she says.

The couple hoped to publicly thank the officer in some way, but Foster hadn’t caught his name or badge number. So they wrote a note to the sheriff’s office describing the interaction, hoping the sheriff would know who the deputy was.

“We wanted to at least put a note in his profile about how he was living up to the true purpose of law enforcement’s duty‚ and helping his community be safe and protected. Even if the enemy is only visible with a microscope,” said Karen, referring to the virus.

Police officers in Hillsboro were doing their duty on June 5, when the community of 90,000 had its first protest to call for reforms to policing. The city is friendly for its size and one of the most racially diverse in the state—58 percent White versus 87 percent for Oregon as a whole. When Kahneeta Atkin, who had never organized a protest before, put a call out on Facebook to gather at Hillsboro’s Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza to discuss the issues, 400 people showed up.

Folks called for the mayor and city council members, who were present, to enact reforms, such as banning tear gas, which was being used in nearby Portland and in cities across America to disperse demonstrators. Officials said they were there to listen and would “figure out a way to make things right,” according to a report in the Portland Tribune.

“I have mixed-race kids and I don’t want them to have to grow up in a world where they have to fear for their safety or wonder if they’re going to be mistaken for somebody else on their way somewhere,” Atkin told the Tribune. “I don’t want what happened to George Floyd to happen to them or any other child or any other person of color. The more awareness we bring to it, the better chance there is for change.”

The Nomination

My husband’s job is one of the essential jobs (sanitation engineer), not a glamorous one but consider the alternative. About the second week of the lock down, he was having trouble finding a spray for his truck to keep it sanitized.

One morning on his way to work at 4 am, he stopped at one of the few stores open that early hoping to purchase some. When he got to the door, he saw that they were only open early for first responders and medical personnel. So, he turned to head back to his car. While walking back a local Sheriff’s Deputy was going in, he spotted my husband’s reflective vest and stopped him. He asked my husband which trash company he worked for, then proceeded to Thank my husband for being out there. My husband told him that it was he that deserves the thanks. Then the Deputy asked if he always shopped this early. My husband told him of the problem finding a spray. The Deputy then asked if he were able to find it that morning, so of course my husband told him that he could not go in.

The Deputy told my husband to stay where he was, and he went in and purchased the spray and brought it out to my husband. My husband tried to pay him, but he would not take the money.

He did not get the Deputies name or badge number, so I don’t know who to give a thanks publicly to, but did write the Sheriff‚Äôs office and told them where and what time this occurred, hoping they would be able to figure it out and at the very least put a note in his file about how he was living up to the true purpose of law enforcement’s duty — helping their community be safe and protected. Even if the enemy is only visible with a microscope.