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How to help victims of California wildfires this holiday season

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How to help victims of California wildfires this holiday season

A search and rescue team comb through debris for human remains after the Camp Fire destroyed most of Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2018.

A search and rescue team comb through debris for human remains after the Camp Fire destroyed most of Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2018.

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS

A search and rescue team comb through debris for human remains after the Camp Fire destroyed most of Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2018.

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS

A search and rescue team comb through debris for human remains after the Camp Fire destroyed most of Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2018.

Gaby Alfieri, Reporter

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2018 Holiday Guide


For some Northwestern students, November was full of anxiety as they watched their home state of California ravaged by wildfires. Both the Woolsey Fire and Camp Fire caused severe damage to Southern and Northern California respectively, with the Camp Fire now considered the most destructive in the state’s history.

The constant news of fire was a source for unease for California natives. And for Medill freshman and Calabasas resident Ethan Shanfeld, the feeling of separation from his home was unnerving.

“Areas that are within 10 minutes of where I live have severe damage to several homes,” Shanfeld said “Kids that I went to high school with completely lost their homes. Hearing about evacuations on the news, I was texting my parents, asking ‘Are you guys evacuating?’ I was just trying to make sure they were being safe. I felt a little detached, which was not the most comfortable feeling.”

Weinberg freshman Devon Spungin echoed Shanfeld’s sentiments. A native of the San Fernando Valley, she said she knows many people who experienced the fire’s effects.

“I mean, every year around this time there are fires. But this was the first time where it’s been really close to where I live, and I have several friends who were directly affected,” Spungin said.

Though neither Shanfeld nor Spungin were directly affected, they both emphasize the importance of supporting the victims and firefighters on site. Below are organizations to donate to that assist those who haven’t been as lucky during the holiday season.

CDF Benevolent Firefighters Foundation

Founded in 2005, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Benevolent Foundation has a history of supporting firefighters and their families. For the Camp Fire alone, the foundation has already provided over $160,000 in financial assistance to firefighter families. The Benevolent Firefighters Foundation accepts donations through their website, www.cdffirefighters.foundation.

California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund

California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund has raised $5 million since its establishment in 2003. Their funds go towards a variety of services aimed at ameliorating the suffering of affected families. Families whose homes were destroyed in the fires can receive assistance in rebuilding their property as well as meeting their basic financial needs. Beyond the more tangible support like reconstruction, the Wildfire Relief Fund connects affected individuals with mental health services, case management, and disaster preparedness education. Individuals can make financial contributions via www.calfund.org.

American Red Cross

Perhaps the most well-known relief organization nationwide, the American Red Cross plays a significant role in assisting affected communities. The organization provides food and shelter to those with immediate needs, so far supplying shelter to hundreds of displaced people and over 84,000 meals and food items. The Red Cross also connects those who seek mental health support or spiritual guidance with such professionals. Anyone wishing to donate can do so easily—simply text REDCROSS to 90999, and the Red Cross will receive a $10 donation.

California Fire Foundation

The California Fire Foundation focuses on short-term financial assistance for victims of natural disasters. The organization has thus far distributed over 10,000 SAVE cards — Mastercard gift cards currently valued at $250 — to families who suffered severe property loss. The foundation hopes to maintain the current $250 amount through donations. Individuals wishing to support the cause can donate at www.cafirefoundation.org.

As students prepare for finals, some of those with ties to affected areas are continuing to keep their families and friends in mind. Medill freshman Zack Cherkas, a San Mateo native, explains that knowing people in these areas is a source of worry.

“It’s definitely concerning,” Cherkas said. “I mean, there are a lot of people who I know and care about who are still there and experiencing this first hand, like the air quality, which is really bad.”

Any Californians at Northwestern, whether directly or indirectly affected, can also seek psychological support. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free Disaster Distress Hotline (1-800-985-5990) and textline (text “TalkWithUs” to 66746). Students can also schedule a phone consultation with Northwestern Counseling and Psychological Services on campus through their student accounts.

Email: gabriellealfieri2022@u.northwestern.edu

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