Written by Huan Xun Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Photos by Huan Xun Chan
From social distancing measures, to school closures, stay-at-home orders, and scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE), people all across the globe have keenly felt the drastic changes made to familiar routines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For Camp Fire survivors living in Concow, California, however, people are now grappling with their disaster recovery in the face of this new calamity.
Concow is a rural community located in Butte County, California, that was hit hard by the historic Camp Fire in November of 2018. In May of 2020, many local Camp Fire survivors have yet to experience a return to stability and normalcy, and struggle to meet their primary needs.
A Camp Fire survivor named Teri Rubiolo is the founder of I Am’s Garden in Concow. She cooks more than 100 sets of meals six days per week, serving approximately 40 families in the community.
Despite the new challenges posed by the pandemic, Rubiolo is able to maintain her free food services for those in need. “We are an essential service, so we are still doing everything we did—shopping trips, delivering food, whatever needs to be done,” she said.
Knowing how important this service is for individuals of this community, Tzu Chi volunteers support Rubiolo by bringing her hygiene supplies like masks, gloves, and alcohol wipes.
Rubiolo stated that she makes sure to wash hands frequently and cleans the counters with disinfectant wipes for preparing the food in the most sanitary environment she possibly can. “We ask our people if they want us to do it or they want us to [deliver] on the porch,” she explained. “They don’t want me to stop cooking.”
Rubiolo is a client for Tzu Chi’s disaster case management services, which means she is also on her way to rebuilding her life after the disaster. Nevertheless, she doesn’t hesitate to put other people’s needs before her own. For example, resolving to give the debit card and hygiene supplies she received from Tzu Chi to people who have more need than her.
Rubiolo said that she plans to share the hygiene supplies with a woman who came to her several days ago: “Her husband will be brought back [from hospice care] tomorrow and she needs some. This is perfect timing. she will come by and pick up some of the other stuff [from the donation tent] that she needs to be able to take care of him.”
The donation tent is a large tent on her property. Different organizations regularly donate food and supplies to this distribution site and every Concow resident who is in need is welcome to pick up the things they require. Also on the property, are two trailers — one where she lives, and the other serves as the kitchen in which she cooks for the community. The refrigerators located between the two trailers are known as the “community fridges” and contain milk and other perishable foods.
Her case manager, Baba Kauna Mujamal, who is also a Tzu Chi volunteer, asked if he could set up a table to distribute debit cards to other Concow residents, and she readily agreed.
Unlike in the more urban areas, houses in Concow are spread out. “Life hasn’t changed that much [since the pandemic began],” Rubiolo said, expressing that it’s easier to adhere to social distancing measures in Concow. “It’s not the same as in town where you have businesses and you bump into people all the time.”
When asked about her feelings regarding the pandemic, Rubiolo said, “Some people tell me, ‘I miss my hug.’ And I said, sooner or later, this will pass and you will get your hug.”