Morgan Hill Unified School District provides furniture for  Paradise area students

Published in the December 5 – 18, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Photo courtesy Edward Boss Prado Foundation
An unidentified donor, left, and volunteer Geri Giorgetti, gather and sort animal supplies headed for victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County.

The deadliest wildfire in California’s history has brought out the spirit of generosity in the South Valley. Many local residents have gone into gear to help those who lost their homes and businesses in the horrific Camp Fire inferno, which killed at least 85 people.

At the Cecelia’s Closet site in Morgan Hill’s Madrone district, volunteers with the Edward Boss Prado Foundation nonprofit gathered sleeping bags, tents, clothing, feed, grain, and hay for farm animals, as well as cat litter, and drove the supplies in pickup trucks to aid the people of Paradise, said Cecelia Ponzini, the president of the foundation.

In just 72 hours they collected more than 500 bags of cat and dog food. They sent a total of six truckloads, a trailer and a U-Haul truck.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District also went into action to help the families from two elementary schools destroyed by the fire, displacing hundreds of students.

Nearby Chico and Durham School districts, which had many fire victim families and employees, started accepting enrollments for fire-displaced families.

In need of furniture to accommodate the Paradise region students, Superintendent of Durham School District Lloyd Webb, a former principal at Live Oak High School, reached out to his brother Glen Webb, a MHUSD administrator, to request 250 primary level seats and 200 seats and tables for grades 7-12 to house students.

Morgan Hill schools quickly mobilized the facilities and maintenance staff to procure the more than 500 chairs and student desks to donate in support of the students shift to Durham School District.

The MHUSD employees assessed the stock of surplus furniture and began sorting through and loading what they could onto trucks.

The MHUSD convey arrived in Chico Nov. 19 to a grateful community. Two other towns, Concow and Magalia, also burned to the ground and the furniture will be made available to any school set up to receive displaced students.

“I express my sincerest gratitude on behalf of every student impacted by this utter devastation for Morgan Hill Unified School District’s concern for our students’ well-being,” Superintendent Webb said. “The generosity demonstrated towards these kids is incredibly profound.”

MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando praised the district’s crew for the quick effort to help their fellow Californians.

“It is difficult to fathom the challenges and trauma schools have in the midst of such tragedy,” he said. “Our staff jumped at the chance to help in any way they could.”

The Gilroy Firefighters Association delivered about 18,000 pounds of relief supplies to a distribution warehouse in Oroville Nov. 20. The supplies were collected at the Sunrise Fire Station.

“Thank you for your generous donations to support this effort. We couldn’t have done it without you and the support of the community!” wrote the association on its Facebook page. “And a big thanks to all the firefighters that helped organize, sorted and transported the relief supplies up there.”

The Camp Fire is now considered the most destructive wildfire in California history. Heavy rains Thanksgiving week doused the flames but created the danger of flooding and mudslides that now presents another major problem for residents and rescue workers. CalFire reports that as of Nov. 30, 88 people died and 13,800 homes were destroyed. Searchers are still seeking remains of others who perished.

Surviving the disaster are several of Morgan Hill’s former residents, including Carol and Jim Holzgrafe and retired teacher Renee Goularte, who moved to the region in the northern area of California. The Holzgrafe’s were able to find shelter at a friend’s home Hundreds of other people found temporary shelter in a tent encampment in a Walmart parking lot in Chico.

Jim was out of communication for half a day, causing his family many hours of worry. He left home at 11:15 a.m. after the fire started on Nov. 8 and he didn’t call Carol from an evacuation center until 10 a.m. the next day. His truck didn’t have enough gas to take a 70-mile back country road with no gas stations. Two things stick in his mind about the experience:


“First, sitting alone in the car at the dam, watching the fire burn over the hills and waiting for it to move in my direction — this was a very Zen-like experience,” he recalled. “And then, much later, when the police came through and told me to leave immediately, that the fire had hooked around and was rapidly coming my way. They said I could now evacuate directly through Paradise, which I did have enough gas for, and I left, immediately and thankfully.”

The Holzgrafe’s neighborhood in Paradise was saved by firefighters but nearly all of their friends — about 50 people — on “The Ridge” in Paradise and Magalia lost their homes

“As I stand in lines around Chico to pick up mail and other items with other evacuees — the ones who lost everything — I see them interacting with stoicism, realism, and even some humor,” Carol said. “They share connections, stories, situations. A shrug is a common response. An elderly black Labrador stood in line receiving many, many pats.”

Marty Cheek

Publisher at Morgan Hill Life
Marty Cheek is the publisher of Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life. He is also the co-author with Congressman Jerry McNerney of the book Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America From the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels.
Phone: (408) 782-7575
Marty Cheek