Santa Rosa Wildfire Disaster Relief, Northern California
In October of 2017, raging wildfires ripped through the northern part of California. Recorded as the deadliest in state history, these catastrophic fires killed more than forty people, damaged thousands of homes and forced the evacuation of an estimated 50,000 people in Sonoma County. Firefighters took many days to contain several wildfires that devastated entire neighborhoods, which were completely charred to the ground. Even though many residents escaped physically unscathed, their hearts were deeply scorched by the devastating loss of their homes. For many, their homes represented much of their personal wealth and contained their most cherished possessions, including irreplaceable family treasures
Not all hope was lost for the Sonoma County residents. Thousands of state and federal dollars were invested in the recovery and relief efforts. Besides the state and government agencies, other organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross also stepped in to assist the fire victims by providing shelter, medical needs, food and groceries and emotional therapy.
The Sathya Sai International Organization (SSIO) has been involved in several disaster relief efforts around the world. The wildfire that devastated Santa Rosa was a call to Sai members from the Northern California Region to step in and do their part to help the survivors of a disaster that had taken place in their own backyard. Assistance came in different forms. Volunteers put together hundreds of care packages that contained essential items such as toothpaste, toothbrush, diapers, towels and hand sanitizers, wrapped with tons of love and prayers for the survivors’ well-being. Volunteers, mainly children and youth, also packaged hand-made soaps in envelopes containing messages of hope for the recipients. Several volunteers cooked, transported and served meals of veggie chili soup, bread rolls, baked Russet potatoes, and cookies to residents sheltering at the community center. After dinner, the volunteers sang some songs of ‘hope’ and ‘peace’ for the fire survivors, which was appreciated by all. Many of the recipients expressed their feelings of deep gratitude to the Sathya Sai Organization.
Volunteers also baked a thousand cookies, with messages of gratitude and delivered them to the Fire Fighters Unit thanking them for their selfless service to the Community. The first responders often had to leave their own homes and families to work around the clock without a break to save other peoples’ homes, sometimes under dangerous and exhausting conditions. Through the example of the firefighters, Sai volunteers humbly witnessed first hand and learned the true meaning of selfless sacrifice.
Participating in this service project and witnessing the resilience of the survivors was a very transformative experience for the volunteers. For instance, one child expressed how inspiring it was to see children who had survived the trauma of the wildfires still running around in high spirits, wearing smiles on their faces. Many of us realized how often we take so much in our lives for granted and felt grateful for the many blessings in our own lives. At the end, we felt very thankful for the guidance of God's Divine Hand in every aspect of the this massive service project from its planning to its execution within a matter of days, involving several volunteers from many centers working together in unity and harmony. We were all touched in a deeply profound way and grateful for the opportunity to serve and help our fellow citizens in some small way during this period of devastation.