Author: Sandy Baker, Red Cross Volunteer
“It’s rewarding to pull this off,” says Rich Hoffman, CEO of Jackson Rancheria, sweeping his hand across the crowd of people eating dinner in the evacuation center dining hall. Hundreds of evacuees fill the tables and line the back of the room filling plates from a buffet fit for any resort casino. This seems to be a bright spot of their day, greeting friends and neighbors with hugs and teary eyes.
The question I keep asking myself, and now to Rich and Bill Thornton, Jackson Rancheria CFO, is this: Why are you doing this? “Hospitality is our business,” Rich says. “We just changed our guests.” A week ago, folks came in for relaxation and entertainment; now, the Rancheria is providing a safe place to sleep and meals three times a day to help evacuees be less stressed.
And they seem to be doing a fine job of that. “They are an absolute godsend,” says Teri Lutzi, an evacuee from San Andreas. She’s up at 6:00 am in the shelter lobby tying her shoes to get ready for work. “Thanks to Jackson Rancheria and the Red Cross I have somewhere safe to sleep.” She spent a night in her car, and a couple of nights camped out in a local business before registering here at the shelter. She thinks her house may have survived the fire, but it has no power which means no water from the well, so she may be here awhile. That’s ok, because Jackson Rancheria will still be here to help.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Rich says. “We will continue on assisting and helping. The evacuation is just the first step. The tribe will be here every step of the way.”
“It’s the culture the tribe created,” Bill keeps saying. “This is our community. We take care of each other.”
That care extends beyond just the tribe. It’s evident in the way the evacuees are treated as guests of a fine resort. From the chefs in white coats checking on the chaffing dishes, to the security personnel roaming the halls, everyone is kind, smiling, and offering support. “It’s our culture,” the staff says. “It’s how we were raised.” It’s the same answer I get from all the team members. The story never changes.
Rich can tell that I am still baffled at why a company would feed people, give them free lodging, provide shuttle service and tokens for laundry. And he’s right. Why not just write a check like so many of our generous supporters do? I finally get an answer that makes sense. He explains that the concept of prestige is different in the Native American culture than in the Western culture. Prestige in a Western culture is judged by the Donald Trump types, measured by what a person owns. In the Native American culture prestige is earned by who you can provide for. This seems perfectly poignant for those who may have lost everything they own.
Before Terri Lutz heads off to work today she will first stop off to care for evacuated animals of friends from her community. It’s her way of giving back, and in my new perspective, building her own prestige.