Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On December 10, 2022, as joyful anticipation for the year-end festivities abound, Tzu Chi volunteers returned to Magalia, CA, to hold a special “Moving Forward Holiday Celebration,” where even the stormy weather couldn’t discourage Camp Fire survivors and volunteers from rejoining their hearts again. The 2018 Camp Fire caused terrible destruction in Northern California, and Tzu Chi USA’s disaster response was swift. Today, four years have now passed, and Tzu Chi continues to hold affected residents close to heart.
Having come a long way since the November 2018 wildfire, volunteers and community members alike were eager to reconnect with neighbors and friends in Butte County. During our special program, attendees were treated to live music, holiday gifts, and a delicious vegetarian lunch.
Here for You for the Long Run
Quickly becoming the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire’s intense flames devoured 153,336 acres of land, destroying 18,804 structures, and tragically claiming the lives of 85 people. Mobilizing nationwide, Tzu Chi volunteers provided emergency disaster relief funds, blankets, and love. Then, Tzu Chi immediately launched its “Hope Heals” campaign, seeking to provide effective cash relief and more to affected families by raising donations from 10,000 people, and directly funding cash cards for 10,000 Camp Fire survivors before Christmas. Throughout January 2019, Tzu Chi USA continued to aid communities and introduced long-term recovery plans, including disaster case management services. Knowing that it would take time to recover from such an experience, both emotionally and financially, Tzu Chi volunteers were committed to putting their compassion into action, accompanying survivors hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder on the path to recovery.
Richard Yale, a retired pastor, has been a close partner of Tzu Chi during the Camp Fire long-term recovery mission since November 2018. Photo/Min Yung Cheung
During the anniversary of the Camp Fire, Tzu Chi volunteers joined the unveiling of the “Butte Strong” monument at Magalia Community Church. The monument was constructed from the bricks of fire-affected homes, and is a powerful symbol of the community’s strength of heart. It was in partnership with this very church that 209 community residents assembled in 2022 to remember and reconnect.
The event began with warm welcomes from Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region Executive Director Minjhing Hsieh, whose presence and words of encouragement have been a constant on this long road to recovery.
Acting as the MC for the event, Tzu Chi Disaster Case Manager Baba Kauna Mujamal filled the decorated space with warm enthusiasm and humor. Explaining the origin of Tzu Chi’s DA.AI Technology blankets, Baba also brought forth new insight into the love that’s deeply woven into every thread.
The wind chased the rain and dark clouds across the sky, but one couldn’t tell from the festive ambiance within the church. In addition to the distribution of holiday gift bags and blankets, the event also featured performances by wildfire survivors and volunteers. The inspiring musical performances soothed the heart, and set the tone for an afternoon of care, laughter, and togetherness. Sacramento Tzu Chi Youth volunteers were the main force behind the event’s distribution. From guiding guests to their seats, packing supplies, and arranging the distribution route, the Tzu Chi Youth students did it all. More than half of the thirteen Tzu Chi Youth volunteers present were visiting Magalia for the second time.
Remembering the Past & Looking Toward the Future
Survivors of the 2018 Camp Fire looked forward to meeting old friends and sharing new experiences. Many moved out of town or even out of state after the disaster, and it had been a while since they’d seen some of these friendly faces.
One Camp Fire survivor, Rosemary Poshard, had returned to California for business, and that’s when she received the text message from Tzu Chi. Originally from California’s Bay Area, she’d lived in Paradise for twenty years when the fire destroyed her beloved home.
“I got the invitation on my cell phone from you guys, and I had been so touched by the generosity that you folks showed when we were all standing in line, not knowing what to do with ourselves, in shock because our homes had burned. We didn’t know where our friends were; we didn’t know where our home was,” expressed Rosemary. “It’s really frightening to be in that situation. But more than anything, it’s frightening to be alone, and you guys were so kind and so loving when you gave out the donations. It wasn’t just money. I truly felt like you cared about my community.” Volunteers were touched by her words, and Rosemary also presented volunteers with a box of chocolates alongside a donation to Tzu Chi to help others.
By the end of the event, volunteers were surprised to receive several bamboo banks full of donations from attendees who also wished to pay their love forward, and be a light for someone else someday.
After the event, the rain and wind subsided a bit, as if the celebration generated a wave of positive energy that broke through the clouds.