Donation Record Hit After California Fires

The North Valley Community Foundation (NVCF) has a staff of nine and typically raises about $5 million each year. The staff raised $8 million in 2017. But, during the month of November alone, the Chico, Calif.-based foundation received contributions in excess of $10 million as donors responded to the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.

“This is like nothing we’ve ever done before,” CEO Alexa Benson-Valavanis told Marketplace.org. “Now we literally go down to pick up the mail with a box, and the entire box is filled with envelopes and checks.

Donations have come from big-name brands and donors, including Verizon and NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, a native of Chico who set up a fund with a $1 million. donation. The Camp Fire essentially wiped out the town of Paradise, Calif., (pop. 26,000), some 20 miles from Chico and 90 miles north of Sacramento.

Immediately after the Camp Fire, the foundation was able to delegate $10,000 each to 13 shelters in the area. “At first,” Benson-Valavanis said, “they were just churches opening their doors, or a martial arts studio opening its doors,” she told Marketplace.org. The North Valley Community Foundation ensured that these overnight shelters received the food, water, and blankets they needed.

The foundation pledged to take 1 percent of donations for its operations, passing the rest to other organizations. One such organization is the Chico Posse Foundation, which has distributed gift cards to needy families.

Peggy Meade, the foundation’s treasurer, estimated some $30,000 in gift cards have been distributed to fire survivors in the last few weeks alone. Boxes that were once used for envelopes and otherwise as storage are now stuffed with gift cards donated for fire relief — many of those cards forwarded from NVCF. As residents of Paradise and surrounding areas try to figure out what to do next, gift cards represent a different kind of financial benefit for their desperate situation.

The focus of relief for the area will shift to determining the long-term needs of survivors, as well has how to eventually rebuild the town of Paradise. Benson-Valavanis said NVCF is holding on to the bulk of donations for now, as it begins to determine the best way to help survivors in the long term.