By CARL MANNING, American Red Cross Volunteer
When wildfire victims in the northern California mountain community of Weed come to the American Red Cross seeking help, one of the first people they likely will meet is volunteer Connie Hoffer, who has seen her share of devastating fires.
A volunteer from Littleton, Colorado for a nearly a decade, Connie has seen first hand several Colorado wildfires over the years and knows just how horrific a fast-burning, widespread fire can be.
Nestled at the base of Mount Shasta, Weed is a small community of barely 3,000 people. When the Boles Fire erupted on September 15, it quickly consumed 287 acres, destroying or damaging 162 homes. For this small community, it’s a loss that will never be forgotten.
“This will affect people for years to come, not only in the dramatic ways like losing your home and everything you had, but in more subtle changes like kids not being able to ride their bikes on their neighborhood street past familiar surroundings,” says Connie. “To see everything you had suddenly gone…that’s hard.”
For Connie, like the dozen other Red Cross volunteers helping residents at the Local Assistance Center in Weed, it’s about helping people in their most desperate hours after everything they owned is no more.
The Local Assistance Center is like one-stop shopping for those needing help. In one location there is the Red Cross plus organizations like the Salvation Army and Southern Baptists, along with state and county agencies providing assistance with such things as replacing vital records or vehicle registrations.
The Red Cross has been offering immediate assistance such as food, clothing, temporary shelter and counseling, replacing medications and eye glasses and providing access to cell phones, computers and charging stations. It also has been helping with long term needs that could include such things as helping people relocate and providing household items such as bedding.
“It’s great to be able to offer them some kind of new beginning in their life,” said Connie, a retired registered nurse.
But it’s not just those hit hard by the fire that Connie talks to — there are those in the community who want to help, like Kadie Renninger who dropped by to talk to Connie about how to get involved.
Kadie said she is one of the lucky ones – her home wasn’t among those destroyed, but she opened her home to a family who did lose everything. She has also been volunteering as a greeter at the LAC entrance, directing people to where they need to go.
“I feel so grateful that I wanted to do something to give back,” Kadie said.
Connie says she tries to offer some measure of comfort to those who come to her for help. She recalls how, as a child, she saw her grandmother’s house burn. One of the items discarded at that fire was a cactus plant that Connie retrieved and kept over the years.
“It’s still thriving,” she said with a smile.