As the Walbridge Fire was burning, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at Healdsburg High School sprang into action and was able to collect several bags worth of blankets, towels and other essential items and distribute them to Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) students and families who lost their home in the sweeping fire.
Through social media outreach and word of mouth, Healdsburg FFA officers Vivi Magdaleno, Claire Conard, Fiona Affronti, Nicki Richardson, Allie Grande, Annie Petersen, Maggie Trebilcock, Alexis Biasotti and FFA advisor and agriculture instructor Wesley Hunt were able to garner several duffle bags worth of toiletries, towels and water bottles for fire survivors.
They also managed to collect and distribute envelopes with up to $250 worth of gift cards to local clothing stores, restaurants and grocery stores.
“Our kids now having been through multiple wildfires nearby their first instinct is, ‘What can we do?’” Hunt said.
Hunt said there are around four HUSD families that they know of who lost their home, including a 2020 Healdsburg High School graduate. She said the majority of HUSD students who lost their homes were high school students.
She said as soon as the fire broke out FFA officers and the FFA chapter president, Vivi Magdaleno, started a call for donations and started gathering items. Annie Petersen, a junior at Healdsburg High School and the FFA chapter reporter, said she worked on advertising the donation campaign on social media to help spread the word.
“We have a set of FFA officers who do a leadership portion and work on that, but even the kids who are not FFA officers reached out immediately asking what we would do to help … The first thing that we have learned from previous fires is that when kids lose things, especially their homes, the first thing they need are the basics like towels and blankets,” Hunt said.
She said the other important element is gift cards, since those who lose their home are often left with little clothing and other necessities.
“If everybody buys different stuff, we wouldn’t know the specific sizes or anything like that for clothing and so with gift cards we easily provide that to those families. We also focused on toiletry items, towel sets and things that anyone in their family could use,” Hunt said.
The chapter’s call for donations was heard, and an influx of donations started coming in from students, HUSD families, teachers, staff and locals. The school district also donated items and American Ag Credit pitched in.
“We collected quite a few items and we were very fortunate to get bags of school items from our school district and from the Sonoma County Office of Education. We also have a parent who works very closely with American Ag Credit and they donated very large reusable bags and plush blankets and water bottles,” Hunt said.
Everything else was community donated, whether it was a student who dropped off items or a parent.
“We actually had somebody drive from Petaluma because the Facebook post had been shared by another ag teacher, A woman drove up and donated haircut gift certificates, so there were tons of generous people donating anything and everything they could,” Hunt said.
Petersen also said that the donation drive was a success.
“We were able to get a ton of things. community members, parents, students, school employees and a whole bunch of donated stuff and we were able to get a bag for everyone in the HUSD who lost a home,” she said.
To distribute the donations Hunt was able to synch up their donation giveaway with the high school’s school supply giveaway last week.
“We were able to act quick enough and assemble everything to collect and distribute the high school ones that way,” she said, noting that each student ended up with a large duffle bag of donated goods. For the elementary school kids who lost their home, Hunt was able to meet each student and their parent through mutual friends and deliver the items personally.
Even though the donation drive is now over, Hunt said she’s reached out to students to let them know if there’s anything more that they need she can help them to get whatever they need.
Hunt said, “We’ve also been in communication with the head of student services for our district (Diane Conger), and she has had a pretty good handle on communicating with families and making sure kids have what they need to be a kid.”