Colleen Scott of Cotati works 10 hours a day and is raising 3-year-old twins with her husband, Brian, but every year she donates at the holidays, just like her parents did when she was growing up in the A section of Rohnert Park.
“We didn’t have much money, but we didn’t realize it,” she said. “My parents always donated to help others. It’s how we’ve always been.”
But this year, shopping for the Toys for Tots barrels at her workplace was not the same. The devastating wildfires had hit a soft spot in Colleen’s heart, and she felt compelled to do more.
“This fire was so close to home that I wanted to help people directly,” she said, “I didn’t just want to donate money.”
Through Facebook, Scott connected with Tanya Hosner of Rohnert Park, who also felt an urgent need this holiday season to help those who lost homes and more in the fires and decided to launch her own, grassroots effort.
“The emotional burden that this fire caused ... your heart just breaks for them,” Hosner said.
While scrolling through the Santa Rosa Firestorm Update Facebook page, Hosner got the idea to connect volunteers from the community with families who had suffered drastic losses from the fires. By mid-October, Hosner had started her own Facebook page, “Adopt a Fire Victim Family for a Holiday,”
“I reached out immediately to her,” Scott said. “It was hard to find places that were giving directly to fire victims.”
Hosner put her detail-oriented skills and social media savvy to work to identify fire victim families, which was more difficult than finding volunteers.
“I contacted the families to tell them about the project,” she said. “Then I asked for volunteers to adopt the families.”
It took a month or so to get the ball rolling. Hosner was able to make one successful match by Thanksgiving, with a family from Coffey Park who wanted a meal.
For the volunteer cook, Hosner called upon Scott, who prepared a homemade meal for the mother, two kids and their grandparents still living in a Santa Rosa hotel. On her way to her own parents’ home, Scott delivered a ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.
From there, things started to pick up for Hosner’s adoption effort. By early December, she had identified 25 fire families and was busy matching their wish lists with 25 or more volunteer families. Since she works full time, she had to spend nights and weekends fielding phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages from the 50-plus participants.
“In the beginning, I thought if we could help 10 families, that would be enough,” she said. “I didn’t think it would grow this much.”
Through trial and error, Hosner developed her own vetting process for the fire families, asking them for their fire stories, checking them on Facebook, then developing a list of questions to help narrow down their needs.
“This is what we offer — a tree, stocking, gifts, a meal,” she said. “I feel strongly that Christmas is not just about gifts, It’s about everything.”
The process was more complicated than she imagined, with every family in a slightly different situation.