No Gift Too Small: Responding to California Wildfires Together

December 19, 2018
The Harris sisters who donated proceeds from their lemonade stand sales to wildfire relief.
The Harris sisters, @harrissisterslemonaidstand

Last month, the Harris sisters watched in horror as communities across California were engulfed in flames — lives catastrophically disrupted and entire towns reduced to ash. What could two young girls do in the face of such devastation? Determined to help, they decided to turn lemons into lemonade. The sisters set up shop on a street corner, selling lemonade in order to raise funds to help their neighbors affected by the wildfires.

A few hours and hundreds of dollars later, they mailed a check to CCF’s Wildfire Relief Fund, proving that age does not determine impact. The Harris sisters’ fundraiser is one among thousands in the extraordinary spectrum of generosity that has emerged in response to California’s Camp, Woolsey and Hill wildfires.

Since the fires began, more than 15,000 individuals, families, foundations and corporations opened their hearts and wallets to support those who have experienced losses through the Wildfire Relief Fund. From major celebrities to small local businesses, kindergarten classes to college basketball teams, their gifts demonstrate how much can be accomplished when we come together to help those in need.

On December 18, the Wildfire Relief Fund issued $1.2 million in emergency response grants. Focused on immediate needs, this first round of grants was awarded to key organizations in Northern and Southern California working on the ground in wildfire-ravaged communities.

While emergency funding is critical, the recovery will be long, difficult and expensive. The true extent of the damage is only beginning to come to light, and local residents, families and businesses will continue to face tremendous burdens, long after the cameras are packed up and the nation’s attention has turned elsewhere.

Disasters don’t just create problems, they make existing ones worse. The housing shortage faced by Butte County before the fire has only been exacerbated by the destruction of 19,000 structures. Communities that have long struggled with poverty watched helplessly as job-creating businesses lost everything in the fires. Nonprofits that were already stretched to the breaking point have been overwhelmed by the urgent needs faced by tens of thousands of evacuees. And as displaced residents move elsewhere, tax revenues will likely decline, just as the need for government services climbs ever higher.

The Wildfire Relief Fund has long been committed to providing intermediate and longer-term support for fire-affected California communities. Over the next few months, CCF will work with local nonprofits and residents to determine needs and distribute the remaining funds with the goal of creating a lasting, positive impact and helping communities not just recover, but rebound. Achieving this means helping expand the skills, resources and capacity of local organizations to respond to this disaster and the next, to address persistent challenges while still being able to handle whatever unexpected issues the future may hold.

Our hope is to support a recovery led by and for the affected communities, ensuring that they emerge stronger than they were before the fires. It’s not something anyone can create alone. It requires the hard work and generosity of thousands of people.

The $442 raised by the Harris sisters may be a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of the recovery effort, but it represents something far greater. Their drive to meet disaster with dedication and calamity with compassion is at the core of what sustains us as a society. It goes to show that no flame shines brighter than the light we create together, and that the hottest fire is no match for a cold glass of lemonade.

To learn how you can join the spectrum of generosity that is helping the affected communities recover, please visit www.calfund.org/wildfire

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