This Thanksgiving, thousands of Butte County, California residents have no home to return home to for the holidays. A fire still burns through the towns of Paradise, Magalia, and Concow, leaving behind only ashes and taking the lives of over 80 people so far.
The fire erupted at an unusually late time in the year with no time for the thousands of displaced people to recover before the holidays. But one city left unsinged on the edges of the destruction has stepped up to give some sense of normalcy to the fire victims in the form of a Thanksgiving meal.
The city of Chico is quaint, yet bustling compared to the rural towns that surround it. It’s known for its plethora of trees, famous craft brewery, and a large university that sits in the center of town. So California State University, Chico, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. decided to use their resources and partner with the town of Paradise and an outside charity to provide a meal for the holiday’s in an effort they’re calling “Thanksgiving Together.”
“We thought it was an incredible opportunity to support our community and find a place for them to come together and enjoy the spirit of a Thanksgiving meal and a sense of togetherness,” university spokesperson Ashley Gebb told IJR. Even though the Chico State campus was far enough from the flames, the university has felt the impact. Gebb said they university is aware of 225 students, faculty or staff who have lost homes.
“Just the experience of knowing how brutally devastating the fire has been to our neighboring communities, our hearts are all broken,” Gebb said, adding that “it will take a little bit of time for a sense of normalcy to resume.”
Associated Students of CSU, Chico will provide the venue and work alongside some outside help from World Central Kitchen, an organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrésto to provide hot and healthy meals in response to natural disasters.
Jim Kilcoyne, chief relief lead for the organization, told IJR that WCK came to the area two days after the fire broke and has been providing 3,000 to 5,000 meals a day. But for Thanksgiving, they’re planning on serving 15,000 meals.
“We’re doing turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, so we’re keeping it traditional so it’s familiar to everybody,” Kilcoyne explained.
“There’s so many people now that don’t have the means to do [Thanksgiving dinner], don’t have the place to do that so we just, again we wanted to make things a little bit easier on what they’re going through and still provide them with that meal.”
On the other side of town, Sierra Nevada brewery is preparing thousands of Thanksgiving meals as well.
“Right now we have we have 1,500 pounds of turkey breast, 1200 pounds of pulled pork, 1,500 pounds of mashed potatoes, 1,200 pounds of gravy, 50 gallons of gravy,” brewery spokesperson Robin Gregory told IJR. Gregory added that the company is expecting to serve 1,600 people that day.
While there will be no beer at their dinner, the local brewing has dedicated a new beer just for the Camp Fire and promises 100 percent of the sales will help the victims. Sierra Nevada is sharing their recipe for The Resilience IPA with every brewery in the country in hopes they’ll brew for a good cause.
“At last count we had almost 200 breweries signed up just over the weekend,” Gregory said. “Many of them brewing above and beyond the amount that they’ve requested.”
Many other local organizations are raising money for the long road of recovery ahead. Chico State has raised close to $300,000 through their “Wildcats Rise” benefit. Local clothing store Upper Park has raised $15,000 through a benefit sweatshirt and t-shirt sale. NFL star and Chico native Aaron Rodgers pledged $1 million to help out his hometown. Smaller local businesses do what they can — one coffee shop is offering a job to anyone displaced by the flames.
But that’s all for the long ride, the rebuilding of every lost home for a town completely wiped off the map. For now, there’s Thanksgiving, and the community is ensuring no one will lose that.