I came back from Chico last night and if you don’t mind I want to be honest. I’m sad. I’m frustrated and I’m getting more pissed. I see needs everywhere I turn, but we can only do what we can do. I can only help those who want to help themselves.
I’m a bit frustrated with the process. I understand that it takes a lot of different resources when you’re faced with 30,000 evacuees on your doorstep. But I guess I thought that typical bureaucracy and the amount of bullshit you’ve got to go through to get help could be eased up. I guess I don’t see it as hard. For me, I’ve just kept a very open mind, asked simple questions to find out how a few dollars can get a person moving forward in their journey to a new life.
I’m not trying to pick a fight and maybe I got it wrong, but I just don’t understand a few things. I understand that you have to consolidate the shelters to consolidate services. It makes sense. But consolidating a shelter far away from the services that people need to have access to doesn’t make sense. Opening up a shelter and having two people show up, only to have to shut it down doesn’t make sense. Isn’t it somebody’s job to assess where resources need to be applied with spearpoint precision?
I’ve watched the big organizations do great work. But as a person who’s been self-employed all of my adult life, the corporate side of larger organizations bothers me.
There’s a lot of information and misinformation floating around so you never know who to believe. The contact I have calls me and tells me the day and time when a shelter is going to be closed. I show up a couple hours prior. I walk the hallways and curbs out front lined with people. I ask simple questions. I pay for cab fare. I give out money and gift cards if appropriate. Over and over a large percentage of the people that I’ve handed cash to in these shelters told me that they have not had cash since the day they evacuated. They ask me who I am.
I say, “I’m Scott”.
They ask “Where’s this money coming from? Nobody just shows up to give out money”, they say.
I reply, “This is coming from a lot of people who love you.”
I left a shelter that was being closed the other day. I walked by a volunteer table. I heard one say to the other, “Don’t worry. They’ll pay you with gift cards.” I have to think that is not true and I’m not trying to say anything or imply anything. I’m sure these types of things happen in emergencies as massive as this has been, but if it’s true it frustrates me.
I spent most of the day in Chico yesterday. I had a person at High-Hand asked me, “What do you mean by peeling back the layers of an onion?’
I told them you can’t eat an onion like an apple.
I circle back to the Walmart parking lot every time I leave town. There’s always someone there with a need who I haven’t made contact with. A dog barked at me next to a tent and a lady came out.
I told the lady, “My name is Scott”.
I asked her if there was anything I could help her with
She said, “A lot of people ask that question.”
I said to her, “Let me rephrase it. Why are you here and how can I help you leave here?”
“My house is still standing in Magalia. It’s considered inhabitable. So I’m here in a tent waiting for FEMA to give me a time when they can go with me to inspect my house. My autistic son was having a hard time in the shelters and doesn’t understand what’s going on. My car is broken. I was able to spend my last money on a clutch cable because I think that’s the problem. But I can’t find a mechanic to come here and fix it in the parking lot. My cell phone is dead and somebody took my phone charger.”
I gave her twenty dollars and told her to go to Walmart to buy a phone charger and find a place to plug it in and that I would be back in an hour.
I had to walk and think about it for a minute. I had to think of a game plan. What could I do? As I walked I came across a young family I’d not seen before.
I asked the same questions of her that I’d asked the previous lady.
“My husband took off with the car to try to get some things. The last I heard from him was that he forgot the phone charger and the car was broke down.”
I asked, “Why are you guys still here? If I paid for a hotel tonight would you go and we’ll find your husband later?”
“All of our possessions are in the trailer and I can’t leave them. We can’t find storage.”
She said the trailer had been broken into once and if she leaves it would surely disappear. She gave her phone charger to someone else who never returned it. So, at this point, I’m thinking, “Okay. We’ve got a husband broken down somewhere and we don’t know where he is. We have a wife and three kids without a working cell phone who won’t leave the parking lot because she has to keep an eye on her trailer.”
Do you understand now what I mean by peeling the layers of an onion?
I bought her a charger. I found a plug at a security trailer to charge it. She had plenty of clothes, but no money. She said she was still breast feeding so she was trying to stay hydrated. I gave her a few gift cards to Walmart and cash, thanks to your donations.
Meanwhile, I’d gotten a hold of a tow company for $60. Found a mechanic who would take the lady’s car to figure out what was going on with the clutch.
Did I tell you her battery was stolen? I told her to call me when the car got picked up and I was in touch with the mechanic this morning. I authorized a repair for a new battery and clutch for $650. She said she’s fine and the mechanic says the car will be done tomorrow, at which time she’ll head over to FEMA and figure out what’s going on.
Today, I got a call from the husband. I spoke to his wife. I asked him where he was yesterday. He said something broke in his truck and spewed gas all over the place as he was driving and had spent the night on the side of the road. He was calling from a phone at Denny’s. He was very apologetic and was confused about who I was. I told him not to worry about who I was and to just go with it.
He said, “I’m trying to figure out what to do. My head’s just been in a fog.”
He’s back with his wife and kids today in the tent. His car is at the same shop where I took the Mustang. Four hundred dollars worth of repairs and they get to move forward. I told him to call me tomorrow when he gets the vehicle back, gets the tent packed up and the trailer hooked up. He has money for a full tank of gas and food. We’ll take the next step from there. I don’t know what it is yet.
It’s an onion. You have to peel it one layer at a time.
With you and I as we move through our daily lives, most of us can go to the ATM and pull out $100 and solve our problem. But for all the people that I’ve come across and have been able to help based on your donations, there is no safety net and what safety net is there is changing daily. It’s a moving target and there’s no margin for error. Your donations have moved people to the next step with $100 to $900. It’s all because of you. You have to know that.
This is the hay barn at Cowboy 911.
Thanks to your donations, two more semis of hay were delivered yesterday. To date, your donations designated for Cowboy 911 have loaded four semi truck loads of hay and next week a semi truck load of various grains and animal feed will be delivered. It took me a few days to create some inroads at a feed mill in Ceres, CA, but it’s done and the food is flowing. Next week, we will send two more semi truck loads of hay. The balance in our hay account will be about $1500 after all of this is completed. I’m not going to forget the animals.
It’s a separate fight for me and I only use the money that is designated to Cowboy 911 to purchase the semi truck loads of feed to the animals.
I’ve gotten several emails from people that say Cowboy 911 is being shut down and being chased off the mountain. I sat down with “Cowboy 911 Will.” That’s what I call him. I asked Will about the rumors. He replied, “Nope.”
When I was trying to explain to you that we were moving food up into the fire area for the animals, I really wondered if people truly knew the scope of the operation.
Now you know. Does Cowboy 911 look like they’re being shut down? They got the military on their side. If you wish to donate, it’s very much appreciated. They are tired, but committed and won’t stop until Spring comes and neither will I.
During my trip yesterday, I was able to distribute your donations to well over 150 people in various locations and various conditions. I wish I could put up all the pictures I have. I wish you could see all the happiness and tears. I wish you could hear all the thank you’s.
Tomorrow I hope to finish peeling the onion with the folks and their cars.
On my way out of town last night I stopped at another shelter. One that had been stricken with norovirus. I was told not to go there as there are people in Hazmat suits. I didn’t see a single mask on anyone when I arrived. I distributed cash to people with armbands. People in shelters are identified by armbands so I don’t have to ask a lot of questions. Most had not had cash in their hands since they evacuated. Can you imagine starting your life from that place and in that position?
I was told by a lady that no one had come into the shelter, ever. In the parking lot I found a disabled lady with a wheelchair in the back of her car. She left the shelter to live in the parking lot because of the norovirus. It was dark and it was raining. I gave her some Visa gift cards and $100 cash. She’ll use it to warm up her car with the engine. A couple of gentlemen in a tent next door were helping her get out to the bathroom when needed. I told her I’d be back to check on her and I will.
I was able to get to the couple in the tent. The dog ended up being a big cuddly polar bear. He did stop me in my tracks, however. I handed him a gift card to Petco and took care of his parents as well.
There’s a town outside of Chico with a population of 230 or so. It’s population now has swelled to over a thousand. I talked to a lady at the volunteer fire department. She told me that no one had contacted them and they haven’t seen anybody. Cell service is limited in their location. Most people there don’t have any money for gas to drive down the mountain to Chico. I asked her to email me their top three priorities and I would see what I could do. I’m working on it.
I have gotten a lot of thank you’s. Without a wonderful staff who has my back here at High-Hand and your kindness and donations, I can’t do what I’m doing. I haven’t stopped to cry. I have received a lot of messages from people telling me to take care and take some time to breathe and decompress. I don’t know how to do that right now. I will tell you I’ve been self-employed all my adult life. I know my tolerances and I know where my edges are. I’m fine.
Your donations bring me to tears. Your generosity and the unconditional support to our neighbors is inspiring. You have asked yourselves a question, “What would love do now?” And you have let the answer guide you.
Our lighting ceremony is this Saturday and as it approaches I find myself getting more and more uncomfortable about it. It’s dedicated to the souls of the Camp Fire and to all those who have to put their lives back together.
Weather willing, we will flip the lights at 5:30 p.m. Donations of gift cards and cash are greatly appreciated.
On behalf of everybody your donations have been able to help, we thank you very much. Hope to see you Saturday night.
How can you help out those impacted by the Camp Fire?
You have helped out so much! Here is what’s needed – Visa Gift Cards and cash. Gift cards and cash can be delivered directly to the nursery or sent to us by mail. Our address is:
P.O. Box 2280
Loomis, CA 95650
You can also call us and give us a credit card over the phone. Our number is 916-652-2065. We will turn all checks and credit card transactions into cash.