Rather than take Thanksgiving off with their loved ones, about 500 workers decided instead to spend it clearing lots in Coffey Park, where about 1,300 homes burned in the Tubbs fire.
“We’re all out here working on a holiday, and we’re all trying to get ahead to get the community to start their life over again,” said Glen Ghilotti, who owns the construction company employing many of the workers. “I think there’s just a common understanding with everybody that they’re doing good for the community.”
As a thanks, he decided the right thing to do was provide a catered lunch — turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, the works — for not only his employees but residents of the neighborhood. He said the separate noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. lunches were provided by Ray’s Catering in Novato and cost about $32,000.
Workers in orange neon vests lined covered tables laden with festive gourds inside a warehouse space on Empire Industrial Court just blocks from where they’ve been working. Their plates piled high with food from the buffet, about 70 people gathered at noon to take a quick break before heading back to burn sites. Jeff Okrepkie, who lost his home on Espresso Court, stopped to thank some of them.
“If anyone can appreciate making memories with families on the holidays, it’s us who lost everything, because that’s all we have left,” he said. “So the fact that these guys are taking that time away from making those memories means the world to us because it’s going to help us get back into our homes faster.”
While out doing cleanup work Thursday on Hemlock Street with his crew, William Ghilotti was taking pictures when he decided it might make for an interesting photo to place a “Coffey Strong” sign on a brick fireplace standing amid a home’s ruins. When he walked over to it, he looked down to find what appeared to be a diamond ring resting on top of the mantle. It’s not the first time crews have found treasured items, Glen Ghilotti said. A photo album had been found, and a jar of pennies.
“It’s very emotional, all of this is very emotional,” Glen Ghilotti said. “Even the work. Just getting on to a site, making sure that the (right of entry) is cleared and you’re ready to go in. Just to see all the properties. It takes a lot of emotional hit to you, but at the same time it gives you the strength to want to do the best you can and as fast as you can so it’s in the rebuilding stages and they can get their life back to normal.”
Mark Sanchez, who lives in Dixon but is originally from Cloverdale, was working the Hemlock Street site with William Ghilotti when the ring was found. “He just happened to pick the right place to take the pictures, and there it was,” he said. “I think it was meant to be found. ... That is really something to be thankful for.”
Sanchez left another job to come back to Sonoma County and help the community, he said.
“I just wanted to do my part.”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.