Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Paradise to meet with folks there who are the “boots on the ground” for the “RV to Paradise” project and to have our first experience with the situation.
In Chico we stopped at the Chabad Jewish center where we met with Mendy and Chana Zweibel – the rabbis who have been coordinating the donations of vehicles to the victims of the Camp Fire and who will be doing the same with ours. Their gratitude for the project was palpable as Mendy Zweibel described needs that remain overwhelming and support that is rapidly dropping away.
“People are forgetting about us,” he said. “It’s what happens.” He told us of a family who had recently come to the Center for assistance because they are spending nights in a storage container for lack of any shelter, of folks who are still crowded in with generous friends and neighbors, of folks who have simply left. As we set out for Paradise, he cautioned us to be prepared for what we were about to experience. We left feeling our donations were in exactly the right hands – compassionate, competent and knowledgeable.
There is no way to prepare for the visual shock of seeing Paradise first-hand. As we drove in from Chico, we said, “Well, yes, trees and a few buildings are burned.” (Are we becoming desensitized to these scenes in California?) Suddenly, as if catapulted into the aftermath of a bombing, we were surrounded by total devastation – burned out cars and trucks, collapsed buildings, downed trees, charred propane tanks, gutted shopping centers – black ruins as far as we could see.
We were on the way to find Mayor Jody Jones, who along with her husband and grandchildren were “working on their land” and told us to “come on by.” Finding them meant driving down road after road of shattered lives. The Jones have decided to rebuild their home which is at this moment a pile of black rubble, and the project yesterday was to determine what part of the garden had survived while clearing away debris they were allowed by FEMA to touch.
“Every single one of our five city council members lost their home,” the mayor said to us. “In a way that’s a blessing, because we can speak with complete understanding to the rest of our community.” She pointed to similar piles of rubble on neighboring lots, telling us who had decided to rebuild and who had left for good. “There will be a lot of empty places,” she said. I said, “Other people will come in.”
“Yes, and it will be a brand new town!” she answered.
Progress is happening more quickly than we expected. Until the latest bad weather, there had been 50 clean-up crews working in Paradise. With the return of clear days, there will be 150, and the mayor expects they will be able to clear at least one lot a day, at which time folks will be able to move back onto their land with a shelter of some kind. “Whatever you have to give will provide a whole new lease on life for someone or for a family,” she said.
As we were leaving, the mayor said, “Anne, look! My daffodils are coming up! And my gardenias and my lilacs are going to bloom!”
Driving out of town we passed a sign that read, “Fear is contagious! So is hope!”
Thanks to the generosity and compassion of our sweet community, “RV to Paradise” has received the donation of an RV that will sleep eight, a pickup truck and a mini-van. We have enough money to purchase one more trailer that sleeps four that is being sold to us at a large discount.
Hopefully in the week we have left, we will raise enough to purchase yet another vehicle -- giving hope to yet one more family. We can do it. Even very small donations will go a very long way. Our team is proud and grateful to represent St. Helena in this effort. We haven’t forgotten.
Donations may be sent to FWUNV, Box 383 St. Helena, 94574 with RV to Paradise memo on the check, or fwunv.org or check RV to Paradise Donate through Pay Pal.