Resilience through knitting: Camp Fire survivor gave out over 1,000 beanies during tragedy

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Quirarte spreading peace and love through beanies. Photo credit: Mimi Quirarte

As cold weather draws near, it’s hard to forget the emotional and physical chill left by the Camp Fire this time, last year. The Camp Fire burned tens of thousands of homes and killed 85 people; those who survived were left with nowhere to go in the cold rains of November.

One survivor, Donna Araiza, spent 13 days in the Walmart parking lot after being evacuated from her home in Magalia. Araiza was stranded in the parking lot doing what she could to keep warm as temperatures fell well below 40 degrees.

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Quirarte and her brother with their grandmother after the fire. Photo credit: Mimi Quirarte

Araiza’s granddaughter, Mimi Quirarte, visited Araiza. Upon realizing the severity of diminished resources, she felt a social responsibility to provide comfort to the shattered community.

“I figured if she was cold, so was everyone else,” Quirarte said.

Quirarte began crocheting beanies, baby-blankets and washcloths for Camp Fire victims that had lost everything in the fire.

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A young infant wearing one of Quirarte's donated beanies. Photo credit: Mimi Quirarte

“Throughout the year, I would make beanies and bring them up and hand deliver them to Butte County,” Quirarte said.

Quirarte now lives in American Canyon, commuting to work by ferry where she was able to make two beanies a day, one on her way to work and one on her way home. To produce more beanies and spread awareness, Quirarte enlisted the help of strangers on Facebook, encouraging members of the community to also make beanies.

Quirarte collected beanies from strangers, who soon became friends and evenly dispersed them between distributors she knew in Butte County.

In February of 2019, with the help of her mother and friends, Quirarte made and collected approximately 700 beanies, donating them to donation centers in Magalia, Concow, Chico, Corning and Oroville.

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Bags of beanies being distributed by Quirarte for donations. Photo credit: Mimi Quirarte

In addition to the donations in February, Quirarte and friends handed out 400 beanies this October during the “We Will Rise” event held at the Paradise Alliance Church.

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Quirarte handing out free beanies during the We Will Rise event held at the Paradise Alliance Church. Photo credit: Mimi Quirarte

Quirarte’s motivation not only comes from her grandmother, who was directly affected by the fire, but from multiple friends and family members who lost their homes, as well as their lives.

Tamara Konicki, Quirarte’s childhood best friend, drove to California from Ohio when word of the Camp Fire spread. Her mother, Sheila Santos, was unaccounted for and could not be reached; it was later confirmed that she had died.

“My friend Tamara and I grew up together in Pacifica. Her mother was like a second mom to me,” Quirarte said.

The loss of Santos shook Quirarte to her core. Losing Santos was like losing a piece of her younger self. Through the spirit of donating and creating beanies, Quirarte has been able to keep her memory alive.

“When I make the beanies and hand them out, I share the memories I have of Sheila and her family,” Quirarte said. “It’s my way of honoring her. If you’re wearing a beanie by Mimi or a friend, know it’s my way of letting Sheila hug you and keep you safe and warm this winter as she watches over all of us here on earth.”

Quirarte continues to make beanies for those in need and is planning another large donation for Christmas. To help Quirarte and donate your own beanies, more information can be found at her website, www.mimismomentarybliss.com.

Melissa Joseph can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @melisstweetz.