Tzu Chi Supports Camp Fire Survivors in Concow Coping With the COVID-19 Crisis

Northwest  |  May 6, 2020
Tzu Chi volunteers Baba Kauna Mujamal (left) and Bobbie Rae Jones (right) distributed cash cards to Camp Fire survivors living in Concow. A total of 45 families benefited from the distribution. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Written by Huan Xun Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Photos by Huan Xun Chan

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on individuals and communities across the board with many out of work, home from school, and struggling to make ends meet. 

In the midst of such struggle, those in Concow, California, are no strangers to misfortune and hardship — Concow was one of the areas that faced the most devastation after the Camp Fire tore through Northern California. This remote community saw 95% of its buildings destroyed in the disaster just one and a half years prior. 

“To be very honest, I have been living in crisis since the fire in November 2018. My life had a huge, drastic change then, and I have been living that way ever since,” said Camp Fire survivor, Matthew Smelser.

On April 25th, Tzu Chi volunteers from Chico set up a table at Pines Yankee Hill Hardware to distribute cash cards to Camp Fire survivors who are struggling to acquire basic necessities, and volunteers were thankful to be able to give their support to 47 families during the distribution.

A Concow resident named Coralie Lubner expressed her appreciation and excitement when she recognized volunteers in their signature gray shirts and white pants in the community: “Oh my goodness! Tzu Chi has been a blessing [to be with] us this whole time.” Coralie planned to use the money to procure propane gas. “My son just got me a shower, and now I can take a hot bath or a hot shower!”

Coralie Lubner, a Camp Fire survivor, received a $100 cash card from Tzu Chi. She happily told us she planned to spend the money on propane gas. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.
Emilia Erickson is the Camp Fire zone captain for Concow and one of the recipients of our COVID-19 relief funds and food delivery services. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Many of the Camp Fire survivors are still living in temporary housing, such as an RV or a fifth-wheel trailer. Some are furthermore still struggling with unemployment and live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the disaster. 

In the face of this new trial, some residents living in this remote area said they do not feel the impact as drastically as people living in the city do. 

“I don’t go there very often. I just go to buy food,” said Smelser, who currently lives in a yurt donated by a local non-profit organization. “I don’t rely on all of the services that are closed down that most people partake in.”

A Tzu Chi Disaster Case Manager, Bobbie Rae Jones, expressed her belief that it is crucial to continually support this vulnerable population as well: “Everybody we are working with isn’t in a home right now, doesn’t have access to proper hygiene methods, and they really need help.” 

The hurdles created by the spread of COVID-19 have affected the recovery of hard-hit communities like Concow, making resources and grants less accessible for Camp Fire survivors. Tzu Chi volunteers across the nation, however, have mobilized to help flatten the curve and support the wellness of vulnerable communities near and far.

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