The spirit of generosity and kindness was alive in Concord in the midst of the tragic fires in the North Bay earlier this month.
Oakmont of Montecito on Clayton Road welcomed 75 of the 430 seniors evacuated from Oakmont senior living communities in Santa Rosa as fires chased them from their home early in the morning on Monday, Oct. 9.
Many of the seniors arrived in pajamas, without any belongings or medications. Within a few hours after posting a message on Facebook, Montecito had received enough air mattresses, bedding and pillows for all 75 displaced residents. The Concord Police Association brought toiletries, and local dentists dropped off toothbrushes and toothpaste. They were overwhelmed with clothing donations.
“Many people who came to drop off donations stayed to help the evacuees get settled,” said Kurt Knauer, executive director of Montecito. “Some stayed until midnight, including many of our staff, to make sure the seniors felt welcomed. It was miraculous for us to see how people responded.”
Two retired nurses volunteered to help the seniors get medications organized and new prescriptions filled. Montecito’s bus driver stayed late to retrieve them from local pharmacies.
“It was amazing to see how a crisis brings out the best in people,” added Michaela Olson, marketing director at Montecito.
Local businesses brought food, and others in the senior care industry – like Vitas Healthcare, Home Care Assistance of Alamo and Suncrest Hospice – brought over supplies and food.
When Carondelet High School’s Jefferson Awards, Students in Action (JA-SIA) Team heard about the evacuated seniors, they wanted to help. Community service coordinator Cindy Lawrence contacted Montecito to find out what items the seniors needed. The JA-SIA Team spent more than half of the club’s award money to buy T-shirts, socks and Chapstick for the residents. They also donated gently used men’s jeans.
The students wanted to show the seniors that they care and support them during this difficult time.
“My heart immediately went out to all of those who were forced to evacuate their homes from the fire. I could not imagine what they were going through,” said Adriana Conte, Class of ’19. “This service project allowed me and the Jefferson Awards team to make a valuable difference in someone’s life and bring happiness to them despite what they had been through. I could never pass up this opportunity.”
JA-SIA is a nationally recognized club that promotes volunteerism. Carondelet’s team was one of the third place winners in the regional competition last year and received a monetary award, which they used to fund these donations to the fire victims.
“We want to thank the community at large for the outpouring of support and donations,” Olson said.
Meanwhile, the Concord Chamber of Commerce collected donations to be taken to the affected area. They delivered several truckloads of donated food to the Redwood Empire and Napa Valley food banks, with another delivery expected last week as well. Harvest Church on Willow Pass Road is taking cash donations to Convoy of Hope, which is bringing emergency relief to fire evacuees.
“The community has really come together. We have met tons of really great people through this process,” said Marilyn Fowler, president and CEO of the chamber.
New Concord resident Vic Reynov is a salesperson at Elite Motor Cars, which served as a secondary drop-off location after the chamber was inundated with donations. On Oct. 13, Reynov and Daniel Burkhardt, a friend of Elite’s owner, volunteered their trucks to take the non-food items to evacuation centers.
As they loaded the trucks, more donations poured in. They met kindergarten teacher Kathy Kohlmeyer, a 14-year Concord resident who had seen Elite’s post on Facebook. With school closed due to poor air quality, Kohlmeyer had come to help.
It took the three of them, plus a few other volunteers, three hours to load the trucks with all the donated supplies. “My niece lives in Santa Rosa. Her building caught on fire, and she lost everything,” Kohlmeyer said. “I had to do something to help. To see the outpouring of love from complete strangers was just awesome.”
When the trio arrived at Jameson’s Roaring Donkey in Petaluma, they found a bar turned into a sorting and distribution center for donations. A dozen volunteers were sorting and calling evacuation centers all over the county to find out what was needed and where.
Another trio was on their way to Sonoma County from Concord on Oct. 13. Three young women who grew up in Concord and graduated from Sonoma State were similarly compelled to help when they heard about the fires engulfing the place they called home for four years. The 23-year-olds had friends being evacuated from the house they lived in only a year ago.
Ashley Becker and Keana Bradley, both 2012 Clayton Valley Charter High School graduates, and Erica Pecho, a 2012 Northgate graduate who now lives in Walnut Creek, posted a call for donations on Facebook and Nextdoor. They too were overwhelmed by the amount of donations they received in only two days from friends and strangers alike.
They packed their three SUVs full of toiletries, blankets, baby supplies and food and made their way through the smoky roads to Seneca Family of Agencies in Petaluma, where Bradley worked recently as a mental health therapist.
“Many people who donated supplies told us they were so happy to have this opportunity to give to the people who needed it the most, that their donations would get to the right place,” said Bradley.
Becker added: “A woman wrote me a note that said ‘Thank you for doing this, for bringing our neighborhood together to help. Because of you, I know the world is good.’ ”