5 Ways to Help Victims of the NorCal Wildfires

Here's how to chip in.

Massive lightning-sparked fires in Northern California continue to burn, and though the favorable weather conditions are aiding in the containment efforts, the fires have already burned over 1.25 million acres (that’s bigger than the state of Delaware), destroyed 1,700 structures, and taken the lives of seven people. Over 170,000 people were evacuated (though 50,000 have been allowed back into their homes), but the fires are still threatening about 75,000 structures. Even worse? Two of them are now the second- and third-largest wildfires in California history and we’re only at the very beginning of wildfire season, which doesn’t end until November. Just when we thought our dystopian world couldn’t get any more apocalyptic, it did.

Needless to say, there are now tens of thousands of people, including evacuees and firefighters, who need our help in the form of volunteering, donating, and more. It’s devastating to watch our backyard burn, but instead of sitting helpless, there are lots of ways we can help the tens of thousands of people, including evacuees and firefighters, who have been affected. Here are just five ways to get started.

Donate money so those affected can get free meals from Bay Area food trucks

Last week, Off the Grid, which you likely know from all of the food truck parties across the Bay, launched Off the Grid NorCal Fire Fund to raise money to help provide meals to those affected by this tragedy, as well as those working to keep us all safe. Donate money to the GoFundMe so they can send food trucks to impacted communities to provide meals for those in need. A $12 donation not only feeds one person a meal, it also helps to support struggling local restaurants. The goal is $60K with $50K already raised, but let's help them surpass it.

World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen

Donate your time or money to Chef José Andrés’ non-profit, which is helping feed victims and first responders

These days, if there’s a major crisis in the US or around the world, there’s a good chance Chef José Andrés non-profit, World Central Kitchen (WCK), will show up at the disaster zone to provide meals to those in need. It’s no surprise that, within hours of the first fires, a WCK team was setting up a kitchen in Vacaville; now there are multiple ones across Northern California where people are cooking nourishing meals for the first responders (some of whom have gone two days or more without a meal) and people who have been evacuated. Donate whatever you can to help WCK’s efforts. Don’t have money to donate? The relief team is also looking for volunteers to help with everything from preparing meals to delivering them with a smile.

Give to the Red Cross or volunteer your time to help provide food and shelter to people who had to evacuate 

So far, over 170,000 people have been evacuated because of the wildfires. Some only have a few minutes notice before they have to leave their home not knowing if it will be there when they get back. These people not only don’t have somewhere to stay, but they often don’t even have basic necessities, like a toothbrush. Red Cross workers are helping to make sure these people have a place to stay, food to eat, personal hygiene items, and emotional support. Donate by calling 800-RED-CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. If you want to make sure your money is used in Northern California, donate via the online form and choose “California Wildfires” in the “I want to support” drop down.

Want to donate your time instead? The Red Cross is looking for thousands of shelter volunteers and licensed health care professionals now and throughout wildfire season.

East Bay SPCA
East Bay SPCA

Adopt a pet

Animal shelters all over Northern California are providing temporary shelter to thousands of pets that were displaced because of evacuations. Hopefully, most of these dogs, cats, rabbits, and other companions will get to return to their owners, but until then, they’re taking up a lot of space in local shelters. Those guys need to stay put so they can go home with their people when the time comes, but in order to free up space, now would be a great time to adopt a pet that was already looking for a forever home. Plus, what better time to bring a new friend into your life than during a pandemic when we’re all at home more than ever? Call your local shelter to see how you can help, even if it’s not in an area directly affected by the fire. Some shelters, like the Alameda Animal Shelter, are taking in pets that were already in the care of shelters closer to the impacted areas to free up more space for the evacuees. 

Can’t adopt an animal, but still want to help? Solano Community Animal Response Team  (Solano CART) needs volunteers to help evacuate animals.

Here’s a list of a few shelters to get you started:

East Bay SPCA
Sonoma County Animal Services
Yolo County Animal Services
Santa Cruz Animal Shelter
Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA
Alameda Animal Shelter
Sacramento SPCA
Napa County Animal Shelter (Note: The adoption program is temporarily suspended because of the fires.)

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Give money to help rebuild Big Basin Redwoods State Park

It’s such a relief that most of the 2,000-year-old old-growth redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park survived the CZU Lightning Complex fire thanks to their thick bark and the tannin inside of that thick bark that acts as a flame retardant, but while the forest is still standing most of the historic buildings in California’s oldest state park are not. Help the recovery efforts by donating to the Sempervirens Fund, California’s oldest land trust and the only organization dedicated exclusively to protecting the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

One last thing: While it may seem like donating clothing, blankets, food, and other supplies is an easy and obvious way to help during this time, it’s actually counterproductive as it causes more work for the aid organizations who often don’t have the resources to sort through everything or even a place to store it, which means a lot of it just ends up getting hauled away to become landfill. Plus, no one really wants to touch other people’s things right now since we’re in the middle of a crazy pandemic. If you want to help, most organizations prefer cash. If you can’t swing that right now, volunteering is a great alternative.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer. Follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram.