The most significant expenses families need to take on after disaster are often the most inconspicuous. These can include housing (in rent or hotel payments), utility bills, or, in the Patterson’s case, gasoline.
“They start school tomorrow,” Erica Patterson says of her three children. Since losing her Paradise home in the Camp Fire, she, her husband Steven, and the kids have been staying at her brother’s place in Gridley, California. With the kids going to school in different cities, thirty minutes away each, Erica will be doing a lot of driving.
Still, it’s the same car that helped them escape the Fire. Erica recalls the events of that morning. She was working at the Adventist Feather River Hospital as usual.
They all rushed to back home, to collect important papers and necessities. By the time they left, the chaos was imminent. “The traffic was just piling up, so I just did a U-turn and left, and went to my brother’s… and we didn’t go back after,” Erica says, welling up with tears.
She and Steven both acknowledge their luck- in being alive and in having shelter period- but, with three young children, their current living situation has proven a difficult adjustment.
Though she says the kids have tried to stay positive, Erica tearfully shares, “the biggest challenge is probably being homeless, not having our own home. We’ve never been homeless before… that’s pretty hard.”
But, she makes one thing about staying at her brother’s very clear: “we’re very blessed to be there… he’s very welcoming and wants us to stay as long as we can.” Still, the quarters, for two adults and three young children are tight, Erica describes: “we’re all in one room, and everything’s crammed into one room so just makes it a little harder.”
Her husband, Steven, quietly nods. He still has his full-time job as a tree trimmer, shaving branches away from power lines. “I’m not very good at talking but, it’s going good,” he chuckles from underneath his cap.
The Pattersons are just one of the roughly 14,000 families forced to relocate after the Camp Fire. In fact, in nearby Chico alone, the housing crisis has been exacerbated by the influx of families coming in for refuge, with as many as an estimated 20,000 individuals now living within city limits.
Erica echoes the difficulty; “we search all day everyday for a house and it’s like impossible right now.” Yet, despite being overwhelmed by the adjustment, the Pattersons sat with Tzu Chi volunteers at the Chico Disaster Recovery Center with the look of relief.
“They were so welcoming and so full of love and kindness,” Erica says of the volunteers she met, “we really appreciate this Foundation.” They’d been on the lookout for financial aid, but, like many families, the Pattersons didn’t know what kind of help to expect.
“$50?” chuckles Steven, about how much he thought they’d receive. Instead, the Pattersons received $800 for their family of five. “It’s awesome, you guys are awesome… it goes beyond all limits,” he grinned, ear to ear. Their kids, Taylor, Tory, and Steven felt it, too, when volunteers gave them soft toys that double as a towel.
With the new gas money they’d have, though, the Pattersons were looking forward to their next step toward normalcy.
By joining hands with Tzu Chi USA, you can help families like the Pattersons get back on their feet, even if it’s as small as helping fill up their gas tank. After disaster, a little really does go a long way.