Home Trendy News Thanksgiving in Paradise after deadly California fires shows #humansaregood

Thanksgiving in Paradise after deadly California fires shows #humansaregood

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Thanksgiving in Paradise after deadly California fires shows #humansaregood


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Satellite images show how the Camp Fire destroyed nearly 12,000 homes in Paradise, California.
USA TODAY

Like so many holidays, Thanksgiving easily risks taking on a numbingly commercial tone. Sponsored parades. Morning show turkey recipes. Black Friday specials.

But if you want to find the real spirit of this quintessentially American tradition, come with us to the hellish landscape of Paradise, California.

On the surface, there would appear to be little for which to be thankful. Flames killed more than 80 people, leveled the entire town of 27,000 residents and charred 150,000 bucolic acres. Now rains are coming, and possible mud slides.

But look closer and you see that Paradise has become Thanksgiving U.S.A. Just ask Denise Scott.

Her roots run so deep in town that when she was born in 1963 there was no hospital, so a doctor delivered her at a onetime nursing home called the Aloha Hawaii Rest Home. Now she has 48 relatives in Paradise, or what little remains of it. Everyone lost everything.

Still, she and her clan are grateful. To be alive. To have each other. And, thanks to an anonymous stranger, to be able to gather in a rented hall in neighboring Chico Thursday to break bread and pass the cranberry sauce.

“It’s quite a blessing that someone would do this for us,” she says, fighting back tears.

More: Satellite imagery shows drastic before and after Camp Fire

More: ‘How do you grieve for a whole town?’ Paradise residents seek healing at Camp Fire vigil

Scott’s friend Kelly Laflamme says the lone silver living of this historic fire is the extraordinary human kindness flooding in from neighboring cities and around the world. Clothing. Money. Food.

Laflamme plans to help serve her neighbors at Thanksgiving Together, an ambitious project spearheaded by chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen that aims to serve upwards of 15,000 meals to those displaced by the fire. When a sign-in sheet went up for hundreds of volunteers75 percent of the slots were filled in a day.

“The whole pay it forward thing, that’s where we’re all at,” says Laflamme. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Joining Laflamme at Thanksgiving Together will be celebrity TV chefs Guy Fieri and Tyler Florence. Florence is bringing his wife and children to Chico for the holiday. He says he wouldn’t want to celebrate anywhere else.

“It’s about letting these folks know that somebody loves them, that someone’s more than willing to take a little time out to make them a delicious meal,” says Florence, who lives a few counties south of the devastated areas. “We’ll have all the hits, the turkey, the mashed potatoes. It’s the least we can do.” 

More: Paradise man escapes Camp Fire with classic car

More: Rainstorms will help California firefighters, but could trigger floods, mudslides in scarred areas

Americans may seem divided these days on myriad matters of politics and culture. But they don’t seem at odds when it comes to helping their fellow citizens.

In the two weeks since the Camp Fire started, so many clothing donations have poured in that relief coordinators are asking only for cash and gift cards to help the displaced get an extra pair of shoes or new shirts.

“I’ve been crying non-stop, every day, because of the gratitude that I see from the people,” says Peggy Mead, who runs the realtor association in Chico and is a member of the Chico Posse Foundation, a non-profit that helps those who fall short on rent or can’t make a utility payment.

For Mead, what has left her speechless aren’t the thanks she gets from the displaced, but rather the frequency with which they turn down things out of concern for those who might have less.

“I had one family of four come to me, and they only had what they were wearing,” she says. “I gave them $300 in gift cards, and they handed most of them back saying, ‘We’ll just take one card, someone else may need it more.’”

One woman gratefully accepted a gift card, but before she left Mead asked her if she wanted a pair of abalone earrings that a local craftsman was making to give away. “She just broke down crying, and then so did I,” says Mead.

The donations for those cast out of Paradise have come from places small and large. Everyone from the Red Cross to entities such as the San Francisco 49ers, Raley’s markets and Rite Aid have contributed to a swelling $5 million pot, says Alexa Benson-Valaranis, CEO of the area’s Chico-based North Valley Community Foundation.

“We’ve been using the hashtag humansaregood,” she says with a laugh. “They step up and care and act in the face of tragedy.”

Benson-Valaranis says that for those in the immediate vicinity of Paradise, the real meaning of turkey day is hard to miss.

“We’re realizing that every day is Thanksgiving,” she says. “We have this tragedy in common now that is heartbreaking, but hearts are also broken open right now. It’s beautiful to see that. It’s safe to say that most people this Thanksgiving will be hosting people they’ve never met at their dinner table.”

So when you’re sitting down at your Thanksgiving table, raise a glass to the human spirit, says Benson-Valaranis, which “has an amazing ability to show up when its needed.”

For her family, Thanksgiving will be shared with a couple living in their basement. For chef Florence, Thanksgiving will be shared with his family as well as thousands of new friends who couldn’t care less that he’s a celebrity.

And for Scott, Thanksgiving will be shared, once again, with dozens of relatives. None of them will be at home, not in the traditional sense. But they’ll be gathered under one roof, gifted by a stranger, grateful to be part of a community that cares and collectively looking ahead to the future.

“We will rebuild in Paradise, we will be back,” says Scott. “Chico for us is the big city, and we’re mountain folk. We’ll go back to the mountain. In the meantime, we’re just thankful. That’s all.”

Follow USA TODAY Nation Writer Marco della Cava: @marcodellacava

Ways to help those affected by the Camp Fire:

North Valley Community Foundation: https://www.nvcf.org

World Central Kitchen: https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/

American Red Cross: https://www.nvcf.org/

 

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