The Caldor Fire started on August 14, 2021, at 6:54 p.m. The following day, as the massive smoke plume billowed above on August 15, it was not long before I could see it rising over the treetops to the east.
I watched websites begin posting the evacuation orders.
On Monday morning, August 16, the El Dorado Community Foundation staff met to execute the Community Disaster Plan. We had planned for such an event for over four years. Through the devastating fires that leveled communities, I learned from our fellow community foundations in Sonoma, Napa, and Paradise that being ready was not an option; it was an imperative.
Need does not wait. It does not go on hold as you discuss or plan.
Directions provided at the Monday staff meeting organized the Foundation response to meet the need. We immediately canceled all scheduled meetings on our calendars to focus entirely on the Caldor relief effort.
The Foundation website was changed. Resources listed and updated, evacuation sites listed. The following day we posted the first direct and straightforward application for financial aid on the Foundation home page. Notices were sent to our community of nonprofit partners to spread the word; we are here, we are ready.
The applications came in by waves growing each hour as the mandatory evacuation orders came out. Driving into the Foundation office in Placerville, I passed the endless stream of cars, vans, trailers, and RV’s all heading West. Our friends, our neighbors, entire communities were on the move.
Hotels, motels, parking lots, and churches quickly filled, all the way to Sacramento, still the mandatory evacuations expanded.
As the exodus continued, the Foundation reached out, contacting our donors, the givers, the Foundation issued a call to action. They answered by the hundreds, then the thousands.
Without delay, the Foundation started issuing financial relief, a process that we have not stopped for four straight weeks. Over 4,700 households representing more than 15,000 persons have received $1.4 million. And we have not stopped as the Foundation moves from relief to recovery. The Foundation will release another funding stream of over $500,000 to those who have lost their homes and find the need for shelter that will not be met with insurance coverage.
Relocating will not be easy as we are all aware of the housing shortage in our county. The task before us is daunting, however daunting does not matter. It must be done.
To the staff of the Foundation, I am so honored to do this work alongside you. Kathy Haven kept the list of those applying concise and correct, Avis Jolly for the determination to solve every problem, Chris Ringnes for answering my nightly phone calls with more communication needs and website changes, Sakina Madraswala, the Foundation CPA for the stewardship of every penny donated. Lois Roberts communicating with donors here and far beyond the borders of El Dorado County, Hilary Mulligan, for managing the flow of thousands as they came and were welcomed to the Foundation financial relief locations. These individuals never stopped meeting the needs that never wait.
There are so many others to thank. I fear if I start to list, I will leave someone out; however, I know how deeply I, and these places we call community, appreciate everything you have done and every sacrifice you have made for people you may never meet. We have met them, standing in lines to waiting to be assisted, each so grateful for your kindness, caring, and generosity. You all deserve a standing ovation for your dedication to doing what you could because you cared. Each of you are part of us now, one family of community.
The companies, corporations, and global organizations that gave showed their commitment to El Dorado County, not in words but in their concern, their outreach, and their giving – thank you.
It is easy to say you support the community; doing it matters.
To the El Dorado Community Foundation Board of Directors, you are the game-changers. The keepers of the trust and the leaders of this community from El Dorado Hills to South Lake Tahoe, from Cool to Somerset. Thank you for trusting in the vision we all share.
To everyone that donated, the thousands of you that gave, thank you doesn’t seem enough.
I summarize this with one particular occurrence that means so very, very much to me. As we were handing out the financial relief cards to 300 that particular day, out of the corner of my eye stood an older woman. She was not in the line of those that had registered; standing aside, she appeared unsure. I walked over to her and asked if I could help. She looked down at the ground, silent in thought. Looking up, she looked around her and then leaned towards me. “I would like to help. I don’t have much…is this ok?” as she handed me a $20 bill. I bit my lip as I could manage only a nod of yes.
I will never forget her.
The El Dorado Community Foundation has not charged any fee, unlike many relief organizations, to the donations we have received. 100 percent has gone back to the community and will continue to. The hundreds of hours we have put in are covered by the Foundation operations budget overseen by the Foundation Finance Committee.
We have more to do; we will be there as we focus now on new sets of challenges, undaunted, determined, and as always, ready.
El Dorado Community Foundation