$30,000 donation helps Calif. firefighters heal after wildfire
Paradise firefighters accepted a $30,000 check from the American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce, which will go to outfitting a gym with fitness equipment
By Joe Goldeen
STOCKTON, Calif. — Perhaps it was a small gesture from one community to another, but it will go a long way toward helping some in the devastated town of Paradise heal.
In response to the thousands of needs created by the impact of November's Camp Fire that swept through Paradise, several benefactors from the Stockton area got together and in just nine days organized a fundraising effort that generated more than $80,000 in donations from throughout Northern California.
On Tuesday, leaders of Stockton Firefighters Local 456 arranged to host members of Paradise Fire & Rescue — that operates in cooperation with Cal Fire — at Stockton Fire Station 4 on Pacific Avenue near San Joaquin Delta College.
The Paradise firefighters were there to meet some of those benefactors and accept a $30,000 check from the Stockton-based American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce. That money will go specifically to outfitting a gym with fitness equipment used daily by the Paradise firefighters.
The fitness equipment was something not covered by Cal Fire, the state or insurance.
"Working out is part of our culture, part of our routine. It helps reduce the mental stress," said Josh Baker, a Paradise firefighter and chapter director of the Butte Unit of Cal Fire. Baker was accompanied to Stockton by fellow Paradise firefighters Capt. K.C. Castillo and Engineer Zeb Reynolds.
Reynolds was one of 41 active and 12 retired area firefighters whose lives were turned upside down when they lost their homes in the Camp Fire that raged from Nov. 8-25 across 153,336 acres of Butte County.
Overall, California's deadliest wildfire accounted for 86 deaths and destroyed 13,972 residences and 4,821 other buildings.
Supervisor Tom Patti thanking the firefighters from Butte county for their service and sacrifice at the presentationPosted by American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, February 12, 2019
"As our firefighters' homes burned, their priority was evacuating the town and getting people to safety," Baker said. Among the buildings that burned down were the gym used by both firefighters and law enforcement officers, and a non-operational firehouse.
The American Punjabi Chamber was represented by President Rex Dhatt and members Atul Kapoor and Rajinder Singh.
The chamber previously had organized and carried out a toy distribution for Paradise families the week before Christmas. And while they were in the community, members learned of the firefighters' losses.
"When we heard about the Fire Department's needs, we got hold of Mario (Gardea, president of Stockton Firefighters Local 456) and decided to sponsor the entire gym," Dhatt said.
"We also had a good partnership with Supervisors (Tom) Patti and (Miguel) Villapudua who helped put together the fundraiser," Dhatt said.
During the check presentation, Patti noted that "100 percent" of the entire $80,000 raised will go toward Paradise. Working through San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, another large donation is earmarked for the needs of law enforcement personnel, he said.
Patti also gave credit to University of the Pacific for providing the site for a fundraising event free of charge.
Stockton firefighter Gardea reached out through the California Professional Firefighters association to connect with the Paradise firefighters.
"They're our brothers and they would do the same for us," Gardea said.
About two months ago, off-duty Stockton firefighters descended on some key intersections around town with large boots in hand for a "Fill the Boot" fundraiser, raising $27,000 in small donations from motorists. With Target matching 5 percent of the proceeds, the firefighters union purchased Target gift cards in $100 and $500 denominations for distribution to any Paradise fire victim with a connection to the Stockton Fire Department.
"Whatever's left will go to a couple of (Paradise) schools to purchase supplies for the kids," Gardea said.
Said Paradise firefighter Baker: "A little goes such a long way."
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