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Ginochio's Kitchen owner honored with North Bay Spirit Award for helping wildfire refugees

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North Bay Spirit Award

The North Bay Spirit award was developed in partnership with The Press Democrat and Comcast NBCU to celebrate people who make a difference in our communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the North Bay Spirit program aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofit organizations and create a spirit of giving. Read about a new North Bay Spirit recipient every month in the Sonoma Life section.

To nominate your own candidate go to www.pressdemocrat.com/northbayspirit.

The steady glare of headlights in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2017 was the first sign of what lay ahead for the coastal village of Bodega Bay, as hundreds of people fleeing wildfires sought safe harbor on the Sonoma Coast.

Over the days that followed, some 3,000 refugees struggled to find their footing amid the chaos and fear of the firestorm, most arriving on the coast empty-handed and in desperate need of basics like food, clothing and a place to lay their heads.

Into the void stepped Patty Ginochio, whose home sits on the slope above Highway 1 and Schoolhouse Beach, affording a view of the pre-dawn procession into town and firsthand recognition of the exigency of the situation.

Vehicles were squeezed into every parking lot and turnout along the coast, parked haphazardly halfway off the roads, their occupants dazed, some clad in pajamas, all aimless and uncertain about what to do next.

Within hours, Ginochio’s Kitchen, a small family-run, harbor-front restaurant, was “jam-packed full of refugees” getting breakfast plates, hot drinks and doses of news about the region’s fires on the kitchen television.

Ginochio, 59, would soon find herself leading a larger community relief effort with comrades-in-arms from around Bodega Bay, centered at the local grange and kick-started by funds raised just weeks earlier for a newly minted nonprofit called the Waves of Compassion Foundation, created to host a local twice-a-month food bank.

Ginochio, a founding director, also is a founding member of the local Community Emergency Response Team and deployed the mobile Red Cross shelter stationed in town for the wildfire refugees, arranging for additional cots and blankets and helping to mobilize an impressive supply drive.

A massive food-delivery system was put together through the Ceres Project in Sebastopol and Blue Water Bistro in Bodega Harbour to serve evacuees placed in campgrounds and resorts around the area.

It was an all-hands-on-deck operation, but one in which Ginochio played a critical, coordinating role, taking advantage of her community network and utilizing skills honed over a decadeslong professional career in global relocation services.

Everyday heroes

Ginochio is this month’s recipient of the North Bay Spirit Award, a joint project of The Press Democrat and Comcast to honor everyday heroes for hands-on community service that goes above and beyond normal volunteering.

The award puts a spotlight on people who come up with creative solutions to community problems and go all-in for a cause with a leadership style that inspires others to step up.

That’s exactly what admirers say of Ginochio, whose nominations were numerous.

“Patty is inclusive, and she builds organizations and builds commitments, and brings everybody in,” said Assistant Fire Chief Steve Herzberg.

From her longtime service on the Chamber of Commerce board to her leadership in CERT and the Waves of Compassion, Ginochio has put years into advocating for the town’s interests and its people.

Since 2016, she has provided informal leadership to the Bodega Bay Collaborative, a loosely organized collective that represents different constituencies in the unincorporated village of about 1,000 people, designed to improve communication within the community and to the outside world.

It includes leaders and representatives of the local chamber, the grange, the fisherman’s festival, commercial fishermen, the UC Davis marine lab, local schools, the fire district, the community center and interested citizens who gather to develop positions they want to represent to the larger world.

North Bay Spirit Award

The North Bay Spirit award was developed in partnership with The Press Democrat and Comcast NBCU to celebrate people who make a difference in our communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the North Bay Spirit program aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofit organizations and create a spirit of giving. Read about a new North Bay Spirit recipient every month in the Sonoma Life section.

To nominate your own candidate go to www.pressdemocrat.com/northbayspirit.

“She’s like the mayor of Bodega Bay,” said Liz Martin, president of the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District Board. “She has her finger on the pulse of everything.”

Collected donations

For years, Ginochio quietly collected gifts and donations to make the holidays better for local families in need, an effort since taken on by Wave of Compassion.

As a 15-year survivor of aggressive breast cancer with 19 surgeries under her belt, she offers to counsel and accompany newly diagnosed patients to appointments.

“People refer them to me because they know I’m a cancer survivor,” she said, “and I’m not the doom-and-gloom kind of survivor, I’m the you-will-thrive kind. Look at me!”

Her body may be covered in scars, but she’s tattooed them over with starfish, abalone and all kinds of other saltwater creatures.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I have a whole ocean scene.”

Ginochio, her husband and their daughter, co-owners of the Kitchen, have offered up the eatery for all kinds of fundraisers, as well as providing meals for those in need, including furloughed neighbors from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Doran Beach station during last winter’s government shutdown.

“There is no one more giving and caring in Bodega Bay than Patty Ginochio,” Herzberg said.

“There is no cause too small or too big for her to join and lead ... She and her family have demonstrated heart over and over again. She’s just remarkable.”

Ginochio was raised in a farming family in the Contra Costa County community of Oakley, the youngest of four offspring born to Mike and Lucille Ambrosino.

But her appreciation for Bodega Bay goes back to “grandparents by love,” Emil and Annie Valena, her parents’ best friends.

The Valenas raised sheep for half a century from their home at the mouth of Salmon Creek north of town, within sight of Bodega Head. Emil Valena was the first ranger at Doran Beach.

The Valena home beckoned to inland friends, who came whenever they could get away, Ginochio said. It offered a warm, welcoming, inexpensive family vacation and time with what felt like extended family in the area.

When she later married her husband, Paul Ginochio, Patty told him, “When we retire, we have to live in Bodega Bay,” she said. “And he had to agree to that.”

Lions Club lessons

Ginochio said she learned to volunteer and participate from her parents, dedicated Lions Club members. Her mother was also a committed 4-H mom.

“Where my parents were, I was,” she said. “You were always expected to help and work hard and, you know, to really care.”

Ginochio started with 4-H at age 7 and later joined Future Farmers of America. “I think those really instill in you the need, or the want, to give back to your community,” she said.

Ginochio and her husband raised two children, Justin and Alicia, in Martinez before they found their way to the coast.

Ginochio found her career calling in relocation services, catering to large companies that needed to move personnel around the country and the world, helping them find homes, settle their families and adjust to new cultures.

She traveled extensively and managed ever larger teams of people, all while trying to reduce the stress inherent in such transitions for the client.

They built their home in Sereno del Mar in 2001, planning to use it on weekends and eventually retire there. But the following year, Patty Ginochio was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Though she faced her treatment hell-bent on recovery, she and Paul decided to make the move coastward sooner rather than later. Patty Ginochio would go directly there after her Friday chemotherapy sessions. It was her refuge.

They moved to Bodega Bay full time when their daughter graduated from high school six years later. Ginochio created Sonoma Concierge, an event planning/personal assistant service with her daughter a short time afterward and opened its sister company, Ginochio’s Kitchen, almost three years ago.

A longtime fishing village increasingly reliant on tourist trade, Bodega Bay has its share of what Ginochio calls challenges and opportunities, as it hosts a growing number of visitors despite aging infrastructure and dependence on an emergency response system funded largely by a few hundred people who live in the fire district.

Volunteerism lives on

But the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well, evidenced in the annual community-supported Fisherman’s Festival, which last year raised close to $100,000 for college scholarships and local nonprofit organizations.

Residents stepped up, as well, improvising a food pantry when local crabbers needed help during the shortened 2015-16 commercial crab season.

Patty Ginochio said she does little without the direct help of husband Paul and daughter Alicia, and a dozen or more other community leaders whose participation in various community groups allows for substantial cross-pollination.

“My husband, he’s the kindest human being you’ll ever meet,” she said.

“Real human being. Always the goodness of your heart. And when I say I need help, he and Alicia are right there. It might be my name out there, but it’s them supporting me.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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