Coming Soon to aNews Cafe.com: An Online Carr-Fire Fundraiser

I wrote this column yesterday morning at my dining room table near an open window where, over my neighbor’s roof, I saw gorgeous blue skies that I hope I never take for granted again.

Some smoke lingers, but with each day the ash and soot and brown air recedes. I no longer wear a mast to run errands, or insist my grandchildren wear masts. Come to think of it, it’s been a few days since I’ve seen anyone else wear a mask.

Noni Doni’s favorite 5-year-old decorated their face masks especially for kindergarten-supply shopping last month.

Those “thank you” signs and posters around town that adorn buildings, fences and freeway over-crossings that express appreciation to our heroic first-responders? They are beginning to sag, rip and fade. Soon, all those heartfelt messages will need to be taken down and thrown away, before rain and wind render them soggy piles of litter.

Likewise, those who’ve painted messages of gratitude on their vehicles must eventually decide whether to give in and wash away the words, or to just wait — symbolically — for our first rains to do the job and erase all traces of these months when we were prisoners to fire, fear and smoke. We wonder when we should wash our windows and screens of the ash, or if we should wait … just in case … you know … in case there are more fires that will only deliver yet more smoke and ash.

We hate to get our hopes up, but that’s exactly what we want to do.

Are we safe now? Can we inhale? Can we exhale? Will there come a day soon when our hearts don’t race at the wail of a siren or the whir of a helicopter; when our reptilian brains don’t panic at the smell of smoke, or worry at the sight of a rolling plume rising in the distance?

We approach the two-month mark since the monstrous Carr Fire descended upon the north state and caused death, destruction and terror – an event that has gained the dubious distinction of being one of the largest wildfires in California history. In some ways it all seems like a bad dream, something that happened a long time ago. But I know it happened because I’ve still not completely unpacked all my evacuated items. I know it happened because I know dozens of people who lost their homes to the Carr Fire, including three from our own aNewsCafe.com family, each of whom have shared their ordeal with us on this site.

“Returning to normal” is a wonderful goal, but it’s relative, since there are thousands among us who’ve lost homes and property and income; people who remain in residential limbo as they navigate red tape and paperwork and processes as they cope with what they lost and figure out how to start over emotionally and physically at Ground Zero as they make overwhelming choices while trying to carry on and hold down jobs and put one foot in front of the other as if it’s just another day.

Some Carr Fire survivors will come out OK, thanks to top-notch insurance companies and extra personal resources. Others, like a dear handyman friend who lost his off-the-grid cabin in the wilds of Igo to the Carr Fire — someone who also lost tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of building supplies and tools — he received a $1,500 check from FEMA, and that’s it. I returned some books to him today that he’d let me borrow, and he said he was glad I had them, or they’d have been destroyed in the fire.

Does he have receipts for all those building materials and specialty tools that he’s stockpiled and squirreled away for years? No. Of course not. So for that guy, and people like him; they’re all out of luck.

Of course, I am delighted —  and not surprised — to learn of our north state’s generosity as our people – and people outside the area – funnel literally millions of dollars into our region just for Carr Fire survivors, such as Jon Lewis reported this week in his story.

Even so, from the first reports of dollars coming our way for Carr Fire survivors, my cynical side wondered how all that money would find its way to the very people who need it most, like my handyman friend, and some others I know who are barely hanging on; unsure where they’ll live one month from now, and how they’ll get by.

That’s a follow-up story for another day.

Like you, I have helped Carr Fire survivors on a personal level to the best of my ability and resources, but I wanted a way that all of us here aNewsCafe.com could help, too. I was aware that alone, I could do a little, but collectively, we could do a lot.

But one thing I didn’t want to do was raise a bunch of money and then deposit it into a big melting pot of Carr-Fire fundraiser funds without some way of knowing that it was helping its intended recipients. Maybe I’m a control freak. Maybe I’m suspicious by nature. Either way, I knew I wanted to raise money for something specific, something that would help kids in particular.

Behold, as Deborah Segelitz disclosed in her Tuesday column, we’re planning an online fundraiser here at aNewsCafe.com. Deb got to be the first one to mention it, because she so graciously commissioned the very first auction item, a spectacular glass piece made by the talented Welsh artist Paul Jones, just for Deb, just for aNewsCafe.com’s online auction.

The Carr Phoenix is heading to my post office box in Redding as I type, and I’m praying that it arrives safely, in one piece. It’s a very fragile, very precious thing, and it has a long way to travel before it reaches us.

The “Carr Phoenix” glass sculpture, commissioned by aNewsCafe.com’s own Deborah Segelitz of Scotland, created by artist Paul Jones of Wales. This is the auction’s first item.

Click here to read Deb’s column in which she tells of the serendipity and connections and coincidences involved in the Carr Phoenix’s birth, such as the fact that Paul Jones’ company is called Phoenix, and the fact that this is the month of his 10-year anniversary, and he wanted to do something special to commemorate this decade milestone.

Thank you, dear Deb Segelitz! Thank you, Paul Jones!

Our plan is to hold the online auction in November, which is aNewsCafe.com’s 11th birthday. And being as though 11 is one of my lucky numbers, I am counting on the auction being a success. Jones’ “Carr Phoenix” sculpture sets the bar high for our auction items, so I am optimistic about the potential outcome.

I came up with the idea after that online auction I threw together a while back to benefit Bella Vista Farms Animal Sanctuary. That little auction raised nearly $800, and I basically pulled that out of thin air as a way to deal with my guilt after I forgot to donate a promised sour cream coffee cake to Bob and Chic Miller’s annual fundraiser for their Bella Vista Farms Animal Sanctuary.

With that in mind, our idea here at aNewsCafe.com is that the money raised in our online auction will provide a scholarship for a graduating high-school student who lost a home in the Carr Fire. In my dreams, we would raise enough for multiple scholarships. And who knows, perhaps this online auction could be an annual thing, so, ostensibly, a student who’s currently in grammar school will one day be eligible to apply for aNewsCafe.com’s Carr Fire Scholarship as a high-school senior.

Because you’re part of aNewsCafe.com, and because I value you and your input, I invite your ideas and suggestions, especially if you’ve dealt with these kinds of fundraisers before and know how to safely secure the money in a way that the IRS doesn’t see it as aNewsCafe.com income, but rather, a financial gift we’re receiving from auction participants and passing onto eligible recipients.

(Before you suggest it, yes, I called the Shasta Regional Community Foundation, that referred me to the Shasta County Office of Education, that referred me to the Shasta Union High School District, that referred me to the specific high schools (I’ve not done that last part). Everyone was lovely, but I still have more questions than answers regarding how to deal with the money in a way that keeps it safe and above board.

With my impromptu little Bella Vista Fundraiser, I simply presented the highest bidders with my baked goods in exchange for cash, as well as checks made out to the farm. Then I handed over everything directly to Chic Miller. Super easy. Not complicated in the least.

But this will be a larger, more lucrative auction. And because of that, I’m open to ideas about how long the auction should last, how it should be formatted, and any other details.

In the meantime, we are officially accepting donations of any items and services that you feel led to contribute to our first – and hopefully not last – online auction. If you would like to make a donation, you can either say so in a comment below, or contact me at donig.anewscafe@gmail.com.

Of course, I will donate some baked goods, not to say they’re remotely in the same league as Paul Jones’ Carr Phoenix, but it’s what I do. And I will also donate a dinner for eight in my home, prepared by myself and others.

I’m pretty excited about this online auction. I hope you are, too.

I think it’s going to be good!

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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