It’s been a long two weeks up here in Sonoma County. Our county was on fire. While we in Petaluma were never in clear and present danger, we were close enough to have bags packed and phones with the volume up all night. We were close enough to be surrounded by evacuation shelters. We were close enough to be forced inside with windows shut for two weeks due to horrible air quality.
The devastation is real, and tragic, and heart wrenching. At the same time, the community’s response is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. On Monday, October 9th grass roots efforts were all the evacuees had. Red Cross and FEMA weren’t here yet and the shelters were home grown operations supplied mainly by my neighbors. I made two trips to the shelter that Monday and you would have thought the pillows I brought (among other items) were made of pure gold. The residents of Petaluma rallied that day and did their best to take care of the evacuees. Later in the week the institutions took over and the town could have ceased their support, but no- the volunteer effort got stronger and more organized. Facebook pages were created with the purpose of providing minute to minute info about the needs of the time. Shelters didn’t need food or clothes but at any given hour of the day one shelter needed something. One morning a post popped up that the veterans hall shelter needed women’s running shoes, slippers, and flashlights. I thought “I have all 3!” However, the air was horrible and I didn’t want to drag my 4 month old and 3 year old out to breath it. So I posted that I had stuff if anyone could pick it up. I kid you not- within 27 minutes of the original post stating the need, someone had picked up my donations and driven them to the shelter. There were people that volunteered as drivers to pick donations up. Restaurants served free food to evacuees and first responders. Anyone with medical know how took shifts at the evacuation centers. Moms showed up at shelters to play with the displaced kids so their parents could have a moment to call insurance companies and plan their next step. I don’t know a single Petaluma resident who didn’t contribute in some way during this disaster. The community was smart, efficient, and so full of compassion and love! And the community is not done. We are committed to helping our neighbors for the long haul. The Petaluma Mothers Club (that I am a member of) has already collected over $20,000 in $25 gift cards to Target, Safeway, etc. that are being handed out to fire victims on a daily basis. And we are just one of the many organizations that has galvanized in support of these families that lost everything.
Last night I teared up as I watched the younger generation’s community spirit. We went to our favorite restaurant- The Block. Basically it’s a beer garden with a rotating roster of food trucks. It has a family friendly atmosphere complete with small kids play area and has become our home away from home. Eating a food truck taco, sipping a beer, and watching your 3 year old make new friends is our epitome of an excellent Saturday “night” (it’s usually only 5pm). Otis loves it there because every time we are there, without fail, a “big” kid or two offer to play with him. Last night it was an 8 year old girl who absolutely made Otis’ night. She built herself a chair out of wooden blocks and then noticed Otis watching her. She knelt down and said “do you want me to build you a chair?” When I thanked her for building him a chair she said “that’s ok. I’m really good at making chairs and I don’t really have anything else to do right now.” Ha ha!
For the next hour we watched this 8 year old and our 3 year old play tag and all sorts of games. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Otis smile so big. There’s something about seeing older kids take him under their wing that makes me ridiculously happy.
This town has always seemed special to me. When we moved in 8 years ago a neighbor brought us a sweet potato pie! When you go on a walk everyone you pass says hello. Kindness permeates this place I call home. I am truly proud to be a member of this community and love watching my kids join it!
If you’d like to make a contribution to the fire victims here are two ways I’d recommend:
1. Email a $25 gift card (target, Safeway, chevron, etc) to service@petalumamothersclub or mail a gift card to PMC P.O. Box 521 Petaluma, CA 94953. Please include your first and last name so we can thank you. These cards are being handed out by Petaluma People Services who is working hard to match homeless fire victims with families who have extra rooms in their house. http://petalumamothersclub.org
2. Buy a Petaluma Proud shirt here https://teespring.com/stores/petaluma-proud. Proceeds are going to Petaluma People Services