By Greg Brennan | Special to The Sun
Less than 72 hours after the Camp Fire began racing across Butte County, six members of Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley and Rotary Club of Sonoma Sunrise met at The Red Grape in Sonoma. They explored ways to share the hard-earned fire relief knowledge they gained during their response to the Nuns and Adobe Fires in October, 2017.
As they met, the Camp Fire was rapidly becoming the most disastrous fire in California history. Within hours of the fire’s start, 90 percent of homes in Paradise were lost. Half the businesses were gone. Most of the schools were unusable, too.
Local Rotarians learned first-hand last year that what disaster victims need most is money. So even before the Saturday meeting, Mara Kahn had already collected nearly $1,200 from local contributors to share with people in Paradise. At the meeting Erica Tuohy and Sam Morphy, who oversee the finances of Sonoma Rotary Foundation, committed money from the clubs that the Paradise Rotary Foundation could distribute immediately to fire victims. A GoFundMe site was created with a URL similar to the Sonoma Strong site the local clubs operated last year that collected almost $750,000 they distributed to local fire victims.
Since thousands of people in Butte County lost everything, Tony Moll and Gary Edwards collaborated on gathering and distributing new clothing for them. Morphy bankrolled a purchase of clothes at Friedman’s. Edwards did the same at Eraldi’s. Kahn used the cash donations to buy additional clothing at Eraldi’s, too. Moll drove the clothing contributions to relief centers in Butte County on Sunday.
Other Rotarians pitched in, too. Mike Caselli coordinated with other Sonoma residents to gather and distribute goods to Camp Fire survivors. Rob Larman joined a group of chefs to prepare Thanksgiving meals for people in Paradise. Cam Fraser contributed a sizeable stack of gift cards from Target.
Kahn then turned her focus on school supplies for students in Butte County. Her real estate office became the gathering place for backpacks filled with school supplies contributed by Sonomans. Through Thanksgiving weekend more than 200 backpacks came in, and Rotarian Gary Umholtz will deliver them.
The ParadiseStrong.org site continues generating contributions. Online contributions are nearing $150,000, and Brian Gray of the Rotary Club of Paradise California said in an email that they anticipate crossing the $500,000 mark in total contributions by December 10th. Sonoma’s wildfires last years affected many people who contributed. Other contributors are Rotarians in California or in other areas of the country, including Washington, Oregon, New York, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Florida. Online contributions have even come from Europe.
Byron Hancock, president of the Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley, said, “The collective efforts of the members of both clubs just reflect the Rotary motto, ‘Service above self.’ Last year, even as the fires first raged on that horrific Sunday night, Rotarians like Tony Moll and Gary Edwards began doing what they could to help people who needed it—the victims and first responders.
“It makes absolute sense that we share what we learned with the people of Butte County as we also do what we can to help them recover.”