Reporter Journal / Chang Jun

Helping victims of California wildfires

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-11-14 11:11

Amy Xu, a resident of Northern California's Marin County, is a frequent visitor to the Golden State's wine country - Napa Valley and Sonoma in particular. Less than an hour's drive from her home, the vineyards, wineries and moments of sipping wine in the sun are "what heaven should look like to me", said the businesswoman in her 50s.

In early October, about 15 serial wildfires broke out in Northern California, rapidly becoming a full-scale inferno that swept over 220,000 acres, killing at least 43 people, destroying an estimated 8,900 structures and forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.

"I drove to visit one of my clients in Sonoma, only to find she lost not only her house property but her winery," said Xu. "Literally, she has nothing left. I cried with her over the debris. Joining us was her preschooler daughter."

For Konghua He, president of the Beijing Association of Northern California, the ongoing coverage of the blaze on TV networks kept her up to date.

On Oct 11, a few days after the deadliest week of wildfires in California's history, Xu shared with He a petition letter by Rachel Ricioli Wittenberg, a math teacher at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, where many students and faculty lost their homes in the fires.

"Please help in any way possible to bring a small sense of normalcy to their lives as they have lost everything. Many had less than 5 minutes to evacuate their homes," wrote Wittenberg, noting that the projected $10,000 raised from the public will be used for long-term support of "our students, families and staff help us build additional counseling supports, computer/printer access for families, homework clubs, tutoring support, in addition to other needs we know will crop up as the school year continues".

The community has endured such incredible loss and pain, and it's going to be a long road ahead, said He. "We should reach out and help."

He invited Able2shine, a nonprofit that specializes in soft-skills cultivation among Asian-American children, to join the mission. "My first thought is to mobilize our Chinese community, although I was not certain whether our community will care and donate," she said.

Historically, Asian Americans have been subject to a stereotype by some that they are a group that cares only about making money, pushing their children to be academically strong and are indifferent to others.

"We always try to teach our children compassion and empathy whenever opportunity allows us," said Luo Ping, founder of Able2shine. "This wildfire disaster provides our parents good opportunities to showcase our next generation what giving and charity mean."

In short time, the two organizations spread donation pitches through various social media networks, including WeChat groups popular among the Chinese-American community.

"Fellow Chinese Americans," said the letter. "California is our home. We ask for your generosity to help those victims and their families. We need your donation to help rebuild Napa and Sonoma."

Inquiries about how to help flooded in to the organizers. "Some asked what emergency goods and items are needed; others followed up with monetary donations," said He.

On their weekly grocery-shopping list, Lisa Xiong of Fremont in the Bay Area added the purchase of a household generator that costs approximately $400.

"This is one of the most wanted items in Napa and Sonoma, as many areas suffered from power outages," said the accounting professional. "This is a relay of love. I believe one day when I'm in trouble, other people will do the same."

By Nov 3, the number of cash donations from the Chinese-American community had surpassed $11,000. But there were still much-needed goods, including food and clothing and baby products and supplies.

"My mom bought two boxes of diapers, and I helped load them to the truck," said 9-year-old Stanley Lu at the Warm Springs Elementary School in Fremont, where teachers have initiated a schoolwide charity project, a diaper drive for fire-affected families.

"I also donated my brand-new Guess Who toy set. I hope a friend in Napa will enjoy the game as I do," he added.

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