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Helping fire victims in time of need

While Petaluma was spared the widespread devastation wrought by fast-moving wildfires that attacked our neighbors in Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley this week, local residents and business owners here have shown enormous levels of generosity and altruism for the many hundreds of fire victims who took refuge here. In addition to the heroic and tireless work of our first responders, the volunteer efforts demonstrated by thousands of Petalumans has been extraordinary.

Flanked by fires on three sides Monday, Petaluma city officials, working with a large contingent of volunteers, quickly opened several shelters to residents of neighboring cities fleeing the destructive fires, taking in more than 1,600 evacuees by mid-afternoon.

The Lucchesi Community Center, Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building, Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, Casa Grande High School, the Cavanaugh Center and many local churches across the city opened their doors to provide food, clothing, crisis support and overnight accommodations to people whose homes had been turned to ash.

Local donations came in at such a rapid rate that by Tuesday afternoon many shelters had more food and clothing than they could handle.

Restaurant owners on the east and west sides of town, including Cucino Paradiso, Napolito’s, Sauced BBQ, McNear’s and many others, jumped in to help by providing free meals to fire victims. Preferred Sonoma Caterers prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for several hundred fire victims.

Lace House Linen employees carried away donated clothing and bedding that was quickly washed and returned neatly folded. Casa Grande football players volunteered to offload and set up dozens of cots from trucks brought in from Sacramento. The Petaluma Creamery donated cheese. Clover Sonoma donated milk. Three Twins donated ice cream. Synergy Health Club opened their doors for free showers and Ooh La Luxe gave out free clothing.

These are just some of the many stories of kindness and generosity that have emerged in the days since the disaster, and no doubt will continue during a recovery effort that will likely stretch well into next year.

As firefighters from across the state struggle to get these hellish fires under control, more help is needed for the thousands of people left homeless.

If you are interested in volunteering at the local shelters, call 565-3856. Sonoma County Red Cross is also in need of volunteers to assist fire evacuees. Red Cross has exhausted their volunteer pool and many additional hands are now needed during the emergency. Anyone interested can call 573-3399 to volunteer.

If you can help host an evacuated person or family in your home for a few days, few weeks or few months, contact Petaluma People’s Services Center SHARE Sonoma County at SHAREfire@petalumapeople.org.

The Redwood Empire Food Bank, which has severely depleted its supplies serving the needs of the fire victims, is in desperate need of financial and food donations to continue feeding those in need. Go to their website, refb.org, to make a donation, or drop ready-to-eat, non-perishable foods at their facility at 3990 Brickway Blvd., Santa Rosa.

Petaluma’s well-documented generosity and compassion is one of this community’s key virtues. Time and again, local residents donate, volunteer and pitch in to help those in need. It’s a tradition here, and thanks to these efforts we all enjoy a stronger community.

The fires will eventually be extinguished, and then the long road to recovery will begin for the survivors. In the meantime, thousands of Sonoma County residents need your help.

If you can donate your time or money, please do so today.