Rainbow Family Gathering Businesses Near Forest Give Group Mixed Reviews

Tuesday, June 25, 1996
By Jo Mannies
Of The Post-Dispatch Staff
The Associated Press Contributed Information For This Story.
When the Spirit speaks, the Rainbow Family listens.

About 1,700 members of the group, which espouses the peace-and-love values of the 1960s, have descended on Thomasville, Mo., about 175 miles southwest of St. Louis, and set up camp in the nearby Mark Twain National Forest.

They are among an estimated 20,000 Rainbow Family members expected to settle deep in the woods about three miles northeast of town for the 25th Annual Gathering of the Tribes for World Peace & Healing. The event was last held in Missouri in 1985 and in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois in 1994. It will begin Friday and run through July 10.

Rainbow Family scouts consulted with the Spirit to select the site at sunrise about 15 days ago. "The Spirit always shows us the best site."said Don "Pappy" Summerland, one of about 100 St. Louis area residents expected to attend. Within hours, the choice was out on the family's Internet page: http://www. welcomehome.org/rainbow.html.

The National Forest Service has set up a temporary office in the Thomasville community center. "It's similar to what we do when we deal with wildfires and other natural disasters", said Jody Eberly, a spokeswoman with the service's office in nearby Winona.

Early opinions of local businesses are mixed. "I feel like I have won the lottery", said Randy Marlow, owner of the Thomasville Fuel Stop Service Station, where many Rainbow folks stock up on soda and snacks.

But at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, assistant manager Mike Mason said he had to kick out three Rainbows who tried to set up camp on the store's parking lot, breaking out sleeping bags and playing bongos. When he spoke to them, they left without incident, he said.

Michelle Holman, director of the Oregon County Health Department, said many have stopped by seeking free first aid supplies and condoms. Some area hospitals reported that unpaid Rainbow Family medical bills already had reached $25,000 to $40,000, said Vivian Brake, a vice president at Ozarks Medical Center. The medical center's policy does not allow it to turn away patients who are unable to pay, she said.

Dennis Reagan, Howell County family services and aging director, said several Rainbows applied for food stamps. State law requires they be residents of Missouri, but there is no waiting period. The Rainbows list themselves as homeless and are eligible for $119 a month, he said.