It’s difficult to watch your community struggle through a devastation as impactful and detrimental as the Camp Fire. If you were able to return to your intact house, town, schools and jobs, it’s even more difficult to come back to Butte County and try and continue to live the life you were living before, when so many other people are not.
For those who were relatively unaffected by the fire, many have been in this limbo of wanting to help, but not exactly knowing where they’re needed or how to really help. More than 6,000 volunteer applications have been pouring into Caring Choices, Northern California’s Emergency Volunteer Center, during these past few weeks. There are only so many volunteer positions needed to be filled, yet so many of those applications have not been processed or have been possibly lost in all the chaos.
But, this does not mean that they will not need you. I’m sure this isn’t news to some, but Camp Fire relief efforts will be a marathon, not a race. If you have the time and energy to donate volunteer hours now, then by all means, submit an application to them online. They might call you tomorrow or maybe in a month, but the best way to help their efforts is to wait until they reach out to you. A lot of the time, they are prioritizing certain volunteer skill sets over others.
I relate to the feeling of wanting to rush right out to the shelters in the wake of this tragedy, which is exactly what I did in the days following the start of the fire. Although I had an early start, compared to some people, there was still an outpour of volunteers at every shelter I volunteered at, even the ones not organized by Caring Choices.
This surge of support from our community may have been more harmful than what people were intending. Of course, everybody submitting applications, calling their office and showing up at their front doors meant well, but Caring Choice’s energy could have been used more productively. I remember reading their Facebook updates just a few days after the blaze had begun and they were essentially begging people to stop lining up with applications in hand and dropping boxes of donations at their doorstep.
Caring Choices is pretty on top of updating their website, Facebook and Twitter pages, so take a quick glance before submitting your application then getting frustrated when not contacted. There could be a reason and, chances are, you’ll be needed soon. Unfortunately, this community still has a long way to go until recovery and volunteer energy will lessen. Take this time to conserve energy now, so that in later months you can be more useful.
Listening to shelters and an organization’s exact needs is a crucial step to take for donations, as well. While some shelters might need specific items, others might just need simple donations, such as gift cards. It’s good practice to ask first, whether that be a phone call or email, before dropping off any donations. Again, I know donors mean well, but it takes tremendous amounts of volunteer energy to sort through unwanted donations when their time could be used elsewhere. And if you can’t get ahold of a certain shelter, monetary donations are always helpful and can be made to groups like North Valley Community Foundation and Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund.
Rayanne Painter can be reached at [email protected] or @rayphenomenon on Twitter.