By Peg Taylor, Volunteer
August 20 began like any other summer day in Jamestown, a small town in the forested area of Tuolumne County, CA. Nayna Patel, owner-manager of the Country Inn Sonora, was working at her motel, which was nearly completely booked.
Suddenly, she received a call from Red Cross volunteer Peter Lancelotti, who inquired about the availability of rooms in the Country Inn Sonora for Moc Fire evacuees. Though Nayna didn’t have enough rooms for all the evacuees, she quickly moved in as many evacuees as possible. Other Red Cross volunteers began looking for shelter elsewhere for the rest of the evacuees.
Soon word spread among the motel guests that there were wildfire evacuees who didn’t have a place to stay. Five motel guests voluntarily gave up their rooms for the evacuees.
“I feel awful for those people moving into the motel, not knowing if their homes are still there. It’s the right thing to do,” said one motel guest. “What if we had to evacuate and had nowhere to go?”
This sentiment was echoed by other occupants as they vacated the motel. Happily, all wildfire evacuees were sheltered that day and have since returned home.
The pandemic necessitated the creation of a new environment for handling sheltering for those affected by disasters such as wildfires. The Red Cross uses the latest COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and local public health authorities to provide shelter for everyone in a safe and healthy environment.
To meet social distancing standards, the Red Cross has prioritized the use of non-congregate shelters, such as motels, college dormitories and RV parks. Months in advance of the wildfires, Red Cross volunteers began contacting venues throughout the Gold County Region and developed a long list of available rooms.
Congregate or traditional shelters, usually the mainstay of Red Cross sheltering, is now an alternate option when hotel rooms are not available. New sheltering protocols include setting up a health screening process for everyone coming into the shelter; providing face coverings; adding additional space between cots; and using enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices.
The successful revamping of Red Cross’ long-standing congregate sheltering system wasn’t easy and relied upon planning, research, training and hard work. The success was also built upon the cooperation and understanding of local venue managers and owners, such as Nayna Patel, and from the empathy, goodwill and generosity of people such as the motel guests who gave up their rooms to evacuees.