Hoping to provide fire survivors in Butte County with some semblance of comfort over winter, Carrie Melvin showed up with five children’s jackets Thursday for a coat drive organized through Sonoma County’s Jewish Community Center.
The Windsor resident, who lived through the October 2017 firestorm that swept through Sonoma County and destroyed many of her friends’ homes, felt a personal connection to people who lost everything in the Camp fire last month.
“I knew how tragic it was for all of my friends here, and so it was just really important to make sure we helped out these people,” Melvin said.
The sentiment was common at the Santa Rosa community center, where donors gave some 1,400 coats this week. Through social media, Sebastopol couple Ann and Bill Krinard even organized a drop-off center at a parking lot in west county and then delivered more than 400 jackets for the relief effort.
“I honestly think this is Sonoma County paying it forward from the generosity we got last year. They feel for people up there,” Lynne Belmont, a Jewish Community Center board member who spearheaded the drive, said over the screech of tape guns stretching across cardboard boxes. “It makes me cry. It’s just … incredible.”
The Camp fire, which started Nov. 8 northeast of Paradise, burned more than 153,000 acres and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes along its path. At least 52,000 people were displaced and 85 people have been confirmed killed with another 11 still unaccounted for.
Belmont phoned two synagogues in Chico to ask what she could do to help victims who lost everything. First, she sent religious items for the small Jewish community in Butte County, including Sabbath candles, Hanukkah menorahs, prayer shawls and other unused items donated to Sonoma County after the 2017 fires. Then, the rabbis told her what the greater community needed most were warm coats. Off she went to create a post on the social network Nextdoor with a goal of collecting 1,000 jackets.
Volunteers who know all too well what people in Butte County are experiencing also stepped up. Rincon Valley resident Denise Rose, who evacuated twice last year during the Tubbs fire, saw the Nextdoor post and promptly enlisted.
“We know exactly what they’re going through,” she said. “We felt it was important to help another community.”
Through Belmont’s past connections, Macy’s came with 150 unsold coats from its sale rack. American AgCredit also donated dozens of jackets and FedEx agreed to cover the costs of delivering what quickly became more than 50 stacked cardboard boxes crowding the tiny community center’s hallway by Thursday morning. They are scheduled to be picked up Friday for shipment to the synagogues and distribution to anyone in need.
“There’s a need, the need is filled,” said Belmont. “We had no idea that it would be this big. Just the floodgates opened — unbelievable.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @kfixler.