One of the most deadly wildfires in the history of California, the Camp Fire, threatened the lives of many residents in the winter of 2018. The fire blazed through the eastern part of the city of Chico, leaving more than 200 people missing, and at least 88 civilians dead. The Sathya Sai Centers of California/Nevada Region pulled together different disaster relief teams to help with relief efforts.

The first wave of relief efforts came from the Elk Grove and the Sacramento Sathya Sai Centers on behalf of the SSIO on 17 November, 2018.  Sai volunteers visited two shelters run by the American Red Cross in Yuba and Butte counties, as well as some other charitable organizations in the vicinity. They were able to explore the community needs and plan for future assistance.

They discovered that the disaster victims in the Yuba and Butt County Fairgrounds were desperately in need of pillows, blankets and gift cards. Volunteers from the Sacramento Sai Center pitched in and donated these items. Gift cards from Kohl’s and Walmart were also presented to Habitat for Humanity who distributed them to many disaster victims. The agency was overjoyed to receive the much needed relief supplies; indeed, one of the agency worker was almost in tears.

The American Red Cross was pleased with the relief efforts and the commitment of the Northern California Region of the SSIO and granted them a Red Cross “partner” status which meant that the Red Cross Volunteer approval process was expedited for SSIO members. With this new found status, SSIO members of the Sacramento Sai Center continued with relief efforts, traveling great distances to prepare and serve hot meals to disaster victims at the shelter amid the Center’s hectic Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday celebrations. They also distributed care kits and essential supplies to those living at the Red Cross shelter.

SSE (Sai Spiritual Education) children of the Sacramento Sai Center also made more than 900 greeting cards to cheer fire victims at the shelter during the December holiday season. The Central San Jose Center also delivered hot pizzas for about 100 residents at the Yuba City shelter on 24 November 2019.

Another relief effort came from a joint endeavor by the Fremont, Central San Jose and Tri-Valley Centers at the Yuba City Red Cross Shelter on 1 December 2018. A group of 30 volunteers drove more than three hours to Yuba City and helped the shelter with cleaning and preparing beds for disaster victims coming to the shelter to stay for that night. The volunteers helped sanitize the foldable beds/cases with bleach for about 5 hours. It was an incredible experience for many as the volunteers folks came together within a matter of days, with minimal planning. 

Indeed, it would seem that in most of the relief efforts by SSIO members, volunteers came together at a moment’s notice and with minimal planning, pulled all of their resources together, both eagerly and spontaneously, to aid the victims of the fire. At the same time, by working with different shelters across the areas, the SSIO developed a relationship and partnership with these other organizations, and became more efficient and streamlined in providing assistance to disaster victims.

SSIO members have continued to make several visits to the Red Cross shelters at various times and fulfilled various needs of the disaster victims such as providing blankets, shoes, undergarments, jackets, pants, gas cards and gift cards to help with immediate daily needs. Besides donations of supplies, the SSIO continues to seek and identify areas of need such as education and rehabilitation, to serve and support these devastated communities in the future as they rebuild from the ground, after the massive destruction by the wildfires.