This is a story of loss: loss of possessions, loss of land, loss of entire towns and tragically the loss of life. It is also a story of hope, love, kindness and the incredible strength of community.
On the night of 8 October the worst fires in Californian history began burning. A week later they’re still burning – over 200,000 acres of land have been decimated, tens of thousands of people evacuated from their homes, and thousands of properties have been destroyed. Heartbreakingly, at this point, over 40 deaths have been confirmed. It’s hard to fathom the loss and devastation. It’s also hard to fathom just how quickly nearby communities jumped into action to help in any way they could.
This story focuses on the amazing love, support and kindness displayed by people during this time. There are many, many examples: of friends and neighbors opening up their homes to take in evacuees, of the unwavering dedication of incredibly brave firefighters, some of whom lost their own homes but kept on fighting to protect other homes and other people. In fact, there are so many that there wouldn’t be space here to talk about them all. Instead I will tell you about my personal experience of this love, support and kindness.
On Tuesday 10 October, I noticed my friend, Michelle Laker from Life in the Bay, was collecting donations for fire victims. I thought I would put a call out on my Facebook page to try and help. On Wednesday 11th, I asked the principal of my son’s school, Nesbit Elementary, whether we could post on the school Facebook page to ask for donations – and if we could use the school as a drop off point for collections. She responded with a resounding ‘YES!’, and on Wednesday night she sent out a school-wide email that ended up getting circulated to other local schools too. On Thursday the donations started to arrive:
I started to realize the car-load of donations I had expected may be turning into a little more than that. On Thursday evening I heard reports of people from the wider community dropping off donations. By the time I arrived at 8:30am on Friday the pile had grown to this:
Not only that, but there was already a mom from one of the other schools waiting to help us sort through donations. I had to leave to drop my youngest at pre-school and was gone around an hour, by the time I got back the pile of donations had been organized into categories by an incredible group of moms who had also arrived to help. These ladies worked some kind of magic and from then on as donations came they were quickly sorted into their appropriate places, ready for distribution.
And the donations kept on coming. As the neat piles grew and were organized by amazing volunteers, so did my concern about how I was going to get this all to the distribution centers. I had initially planned to get one or two carloads of things and to drive them to Michelle’s house so she could distribute them. This was way past that now. I was worried about what to do if we couldn’t get enough drivers!
I had been in touch with a lady in our area, Krysten, whose husband had a large pickup truck that they would be driving up to distribution centers. She said I should bring some things to her house. I warned her that we had a lot and her response was ‘bring it!’. We did. My friend Nichole and I packed our cars full and drove them over. Krysten wasn’t perturbed, she felt she needed to help out and was going to do whatever it took to get supplies to where they were needed, even if that meant doing numerous trips over the weekend. This is not a short trip; we’re talking between 3-4hrs each time. After unpacking our two carloads of donations, Krysten told us to bring more and we did. By the time we got back her husband had arrived and decided he’d clean out a very large trailer they have and they’d fill that up too. Krysten drove back to the school to collect more donations to deliver.
Even though we had taken so many things to her place, by the time we got back the spaces where they had been were filled up with more. There was a constant stream of people coming in to ask what was needed and how they could help. N95 masks were in short supply in the area and we had asked if anyone could get hold of those. A short while later someone delivered a large crate full of them. We had asked people to stick to the donations listed and this is what everyone did. Not only that but people added small personal touches to them, such as the person who donated a pack of high energy snacks for the firefighters and handwrote ‘Thank you’ on each one.
The rest of the day continued in this way, a whirlwind of donations, and volunteers giving their time, their skills, their strength and their love. I had put requests out for drivers on the school Facebook page in the morning, and amazing people stepped up to help, but the donations just kept on coming. So on Friday afternoon I posted a request for drivers on our neighborhood website, Nextdoor. Within an hour I had so many drivers that I had to start turning them away. We stopped taking donations at 2pm and by 4:30pm on Friday afternoon, this was what the school hall looked like –
Every single donation had been picked up by volunteer drivers and they were either already on their way to the distribution centers or would be heading there on Saturday morning.
Overall, I estimate that between 12-15 truck loads of donations were received and dispatched within the space of two days. The way members of our community came together to help blew my mind. I spoke to and met so many wonderful people over those two days, most of whom I had never met before, and every single one of them just wanted to help. Every single one of them was so kind. Every single one of them wanted to spread some love and some light during this hard time.
In the beautiful, historic town of Sonoma there is a statue of the community’s founder in the main square, which has been draped with signs thanking the firefighters for everything they have done. One of the signs reads, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke”.
Right now, there are so many things happening around the world that can make it seem terrifying but this, this right here, is how we try to make it better. We come together to help each other wherever we can, we share what we have, we treat each other kindly and we love.