HELENA — On Thursday at the Helena Safeway, a crowd of law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, non-profit organizers and Safeway/Albertsons employees gathered outside the grocery store to celebrate Assistant Store Director Eric Dowell.
Dowell would never take credit for it, but over the years he has had a lasting impact in Lewis and Clark County for his tireless dedication to the community.
However, on Thursday he didn’t have much say in the matter as he was presented the 2020 Peak Achievement Award for this leadership at the store and commitment to supporting his community. The award is the highest honor an employee of Safeway can receive in their division.
Recipients of the award are usually nominated by other associates, but Dowell was nominated by Helena Police Officer D.J. Zapata.
“Eric’s that kind of guy you can call anytime day or night and whatever you need he’s there for you,” Zapata said. “You know the whole ‘he gives a 110 percent?’ I don’t think there’s a percent high enough for what Eric gives.”
Over the years Dowell has organized fundraisers for numerous organizations, causes and nonprofits.
“He’s done law enforcement appreciation, first responder 9/11 memorial. He’s assisted the Helena police department protective association, he’s given money to the D.A.R.E. program,” said Zapata.
Each year Dowell organizes “Heroes of Helena” to provide the opportunity for community members to meet their local law enforcement and
The Helena Safeway regularly holds fundraisers for Helena Food Share, like their “Pie in the Face” fundraiser with law enforcement, firefighters and local celebrities.
Dowell has also coordinated memorials for Montana first responders and fundraisers for families in need.
In February, when Texas was hit by a deadly Blizzard, Ken McLean came up with the idea to drive a trailer load of donations down to those affected. Dowell helped coordinate emergency and essential item donations at the Helena Safeway and Albertsons locations in Helena.
“Anything and everything that you can think that needs to be done, Eric’s already thought of it and already put it together and he’s already getting the next event going,” said Zapata.
In 2015 a murder suspect led law enforcement on a 3-day manhunt in the mountains north of Helena. Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton says Dowell called him asking how he and the store could help.
“When people are in need [Dowell] joins right in. He helped bring water and food when we had a manhunt he was there with a bunch of donations,” said Dutton.
Since then Dowell has consistently made sure first responders and those affected by disaster are taken care of with food and essential items.
“A lot of times the call will go out that we need food and he’s the first one to step up to make sure we have food coming to any of the fires,” said Canyon Creek Fire Chief Sam Stigman.
In 2019 a wildfire erupted on the north edge of the Helena Valley that ended up burning more than 5,000 acres and causing evacuations. Every volunteer fire department in the county responded to the disaster to protect homes and get a handle on the blaze.
When the volunteer departments said they needed help with bottled water, Dowell got to work coordinating donations. Through his efforts, more than 700 cases of water and Gatorade were donated in just a couple of days. Some of that water is still at some stations.
“If we didn’t have Eric in this community, I don’t know who else would step up to take his place and do what he does,” said Stigman. “He’s just that gentle giant who’s always ready to jump on board for any task and he does it every time.”
“As far as the Rural Fire Council is concerned he’s an honorary firefighter--not that we’d ever give him a hose. Not sure what might happen,” joked Stigman.
From Dowell’s perspective, he’s just the guy in the background helping lift others up.
“ It’s through teamwork with the fire department, it’s through teamwork with the police department, it’s through teamwork with all of our first responders and it’s will teaming up with Ken Mclean working the grill, doing what he does,” explained Dowell. “Those guys make this happen. I just like to stand back and pat them on the back because they do an excellent job at doing what they do.”
Dowell added that it isn’t a question about if he’ll continue to help out in the future and assist causes, but what more can be done to help and support the community.
On Thursday, Dowell also received a check for $3,000 and will get to job shadow a member leadership in the country and be the “boss for the day.”