Rotarian-owned gym takes in wildfire evacuees
Firefighter Tyler Coney of Bend, Oregon, USA, eats dinner in a gym filled with cots. The facility is owned by Tony DeLuca, a member of the Rotary Club of Chico Sunrise, California. Photo by Doug Keister.
W hen a Rotarian-owned fitness center housed evacuees and firefighters during the blazes in and around Paradise, California, USA, the overwhelmed local government was able to provide cots but not much else.
Members of the Rotary clubs of Chico and Chico Sunrise stepped in to address basic needs, donating hundreds of blankets and pillows, cases of water, and days worth of food.
"When the stuff hits the fan, there is nothing that Rotary can't do," said Tony DeLuca, a member of the Chico Sunrise club and owner of Fit One Athletic Club in Chico, about 15 minutes from Paradise. "Anyone in the country who would question that, come out here and see. What we did was impossible."
The facility took in about 250 evacuees after other emergency shelters had reached capacity during the first wave of the fires. More than a few ended up losing their homes to the flames.
A Rotarian who had lost his own house in a fire a few years earlier went to every store in town to buy enough blankets and pillows for everybody staying at the athletic center, and Rotary club members throughout the area showed up with cases of water and nonperishable food.
After the evacuees left, DeLuca and Scott Navarro, general manager of the fitness center and a member of the Rotary Club of Chico, donated the blankets, pillows, and leftover food to a local homeless shelter. But less than a week later, the winds picked up and fanned the flames, quickly destroying much of the nearby city of Concow .
DeLuca called the county government to see whether it needed to use his business as a shelter again. He learned that this time, the need was for a rest spot for firefighters coming in from all over the country to battle the flames.
DeLuca and Navarro borrowed back blankets and pillows that were not currently needed by the homeless shelter. And once again, Rotarians heeded the call for donations, bringing in more blankets and pillows, providing more water, and organizing teams to cook dinners for the firefighters. Club members dropped everything to work the phones and otherwise volunteer.
"I can't tell you how proud I am to be a Rotarian right now," said Navarro, who joined his club in October. "To see the way everybody has stepped up, it puts a smile on my face."