By Raiza Giorgi
People in the Santa Ynez Valley have come out in force to help their southern neighbors who have suffered from the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura County.
Since the fire began Dec. 4 near Santa Paula, many local residents heard about all the families who have lost their homes in the weeks just before Christmas. Then they stepped up to offer comfort, contribute needed items, and host fundraisers.
“I was just watching the fire coverage and thinking that something needs to be done. We can’t just sit here and do nothing,” said local country musician Dylan Ortega.
So he got together with a few friends and staff at Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton to plan “Fight the Fire,” a fundraiser from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13.
Ortega and singer Carrie Marie will provide entertainment. There will also be food vendors, beer and wine, kids activities, a live and silent auction and raffle items.
Ortega said he was blown away when a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization contacted him and donated $50,000 to the cause, anonymously. Along with another $2,000 raised already on the event’s GoFundMe page, Ortega said they hope to donate a big amount to the United Way’s Thomas Fire Fund.
The Fire Fund has already raised more than $2 million, and the United Way has pledged to donate 100 percent of it to support the fire victims.
The United Way of Santa Barbara County and United Way of Ventura County, American Red Cross of Ventura County and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services teamed up to create the Thomas Fire Fund.
In the same spirit, Bethania Lutheran Church, the Santa Ynez Valley Star and several valley residents decided to put together a holiday drive for the Thomas Fire victims on Dec. 23 at the church.
“If the situation were reversed and the fires were burning on this side of the mountain, we know people from other Central Coast communities would step up and help us out. That is what we do in times of need, especially during the holidays,” said the Star’s Publisher, Raiza Giorgi.
People donated household items, clothing, gift cards, Christmas presents and more during the event at Bethania.
A local family thought they would do something small that ended up being a big gesture of their own.
“We wanted to host a hot chocolate stand to raise money for the families, but it was too smoky outside so we did a GoFundMe,” said Kaidan Kurowski, 11, of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Kaidan and his five siblings, with help from their mother Brittany, set up a page and raised more than $1,300 in less than 24 hours. The kids took the money and went on a shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us in Ventura, got all the toys they could fit into the family’s van, and dropped them off at the Catholic Charities Ventura Community Center.
The older Kurowski kids each they had their own cart and said they liked getting to pick out toys and gifts for kids in their own age group.
Kash Kurowski said he made sure there were Nerf guns, while younger sister Kalei said the favorite toy she picked out was a tattoo machine.
“The staff at Toys ‘R’ Us were amazing, and the other customers that waited behind us patiently in line. As a mom it’s already daunting taking kids into a toy store, but I am really proud that none of my kids, even the younger ones, asked to take anything for themselves,” Kurowski said.
She was also impressed when they showed up at the Catholic Charities center by how grateful the volunteers were. The family plans to make another donation of the gifts that showed up at their door even after their GoFundMe campaign closed.
Many Santa Ynez Valley businesses have also hosted fundraising or donation events, including Matt and Kiel Cavalli of ONEderChild in Buellton.
“We are accepting clothing, sizes newborn through 8 years old, and the valley has delivered. We also asked for diapers and wipes and have been provided with all that and more. People have dropped off formula, toys, and socks. One customer went to Costco and bought brand-new pajamas,” Matt Cavalli said.
He added that multiple customers have given up their consignment balance for people to purchase clothes if they had older kids or needed more items than ONEderChild could provide.
“We opted to keep donations in the store versus sending them out so the kids would have a sense of security in a fun, mellow store. We pull the bins they need by size and help them shop and try on as if they were shopping in the store. The best part is that it’s all free,” Cavalli added.
Pilates instructor Allison Howie, who owns Studio Joie de Vie in Santa Ynez, took donations of clothes and everyday household items to the Unity Shoppe in Santa Barbara.
“This valley amazes me with all the people who are concerned for those that have lost their homes or have been evacuated,” Howie said.
A new doggie day care service, Hollon’s Hounds, in Santa Ynez has taken in 65 animals eveacuated from the Thomas Fire.
“If anyone wishes to help, we are accepting donations at the Tractor Supply in Buellton. We have an account set up there or you can donate through our Milton’s Mutts nonprofit,” said Breann Hollon, owner of Hollon’s Hounds and director of Milton’s Mutts.
They need dog food, bowls, beds, toys or monetary support.
For more information, look on Facebook for Hollon’s Hounds.
Pollyrich Farms in Buellton also hosted a donation drive and took items down to Santa Barbara.
Santa Ynez Valley resident Pam Fisher said she donated several bags of clothes to the donation drive at the bowling alley in Santa Maria.
Resident Matt Lamberton of Solvang has been collecting items to donate and has made several trips to drop things off.
Local chiropractor Jim Hazard is offering free chiropractic care for firefighters if they are able to make it to his office at 2027 Village Lane in Solvang. Firefighters can call him at 805-686-2064.
Several ranchers and horse-boarding facilities offered shelter for larger animals, including Nojoqui Horse Ranch in Gaviota. Horse trainer Amber Giorgi Mallea said they have room for several more. Contact her at 805-325-1941 or at www.nojoquihorseranch.com.
There may also be available space at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center. Call Andrea at 805-588-4521 to inquire.
Santa Ynez Feed and Mill accepted donations for pet and livestock feed and took numerous loads to the fairgrounds in Ventura and Santa Barbara for displaced animals. Jacobsen Hay and Feed has also been delivering hay and feed for large animals.
St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church has offered their facilities during the day if anyone would like to come rest, meditate, pray or just use their wifi network.
“You’ll also find water for your dog in the courtyard and, on especially hot days, there will be ice water for you as well,” according to St. Mark’s staff.