Nevada County’s ‘WE CARE’ makes quilts for children who have lost their homes in lesser-known wildfires
Kathy Biggi and Lorna Straka know all too well the destructive power of fire and the potential for devastating loss.
Biggi’s son once worked on a “hot shot” firefighting crew for the U.S. Forest Service and Straka’s husband was the Grass Valley Fire chief during the horrific 49er fire of 1988.
In hearing the tales of homes reduced to ash, there was always one aspect of the tragedy that was most heart-wrenching: the children. But in 2015, when Biggi learned that 475 homes in Calaveras and Amador counties were destroyed in the Butte Fire, something hit home in a profound way.
The Sierra foothills community was similar to Nevada County, and in reading about the fire victims, Biggi had a chilling thought.
“We can’t rebuild a house, but we can make a quilt to help comfort a child going through an unthinkable tragedy.”
— Kathy Biggi
“That could easily have been us,” she said.
Eager to help, Biggi thought of the best way she could personally bring comfort to victims — quilts. As part of an impressive Nevada County quilting community, Biggi teamed up with her friend Straka and the two began recruiting their fellow quilters to make quilts for children who were impacted by the fire. The response was astounding — a total of 157 quilts were delivered, and the organization “WE CARE” was born.
“We thought, ‘We can’t rebuild a house, but we can make a quilt to help comfort a child going through an unthinkable tragedy,'” said Biggi. “We’re quilters — that’s what we do.”
In 2016, the group’s efforts went to the Konocti Unified School District, where they delivered more than 85 quilts to children who were impacted by Lake County’s Clayton Fire in Lower Lake.
‘NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS’
Now boasting an estimated 70 members, WE CARE members delivered 35 quilts in September to victims of the Helena Fire in Junction City. Little did they know the fire season had just begun. On Monday, 25 to 30 quilters gathered in Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Grass Valley to continue making quilts for victims of the La Porte Fire in Butte County and the Cascade Fire in Yuba County. It’s likely, said Biggi, they will also bring quilts to victims of the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino County.
“We go to areas that we call ‘forgotten fires,'” she said. “Larger populated areas get all the attention and help from FEMA, Red Cross, large corporations, etc. We focus where there is little or no help. For example, the Helena Fire was during the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Last I checked, the Helena Fire had not received help from anyone — the local bar opened up as a shelter. It was neighbors helping neighbors.”
WE CARE’s mission is to give a handmade quilt and pillowcase (and sometimes a book) to children in grades K through 12 and their non-school age siblings who have lost their homes due to a wildfire. Biggi, who worked in schools for many years, knew that schools are an effective tool for identifying those in need.
“By going through the school districts, we are assured that the quilts will be appropriate for age and gender,” she said. “No one knows the children better than their school.”
DONATIONS GREATLY APPRECIATED
Straka said she was deeply moved when she delivered quilts to a group of children who had lost everything.
“They picked out their quilts and just hugged them,” she said. “And they weren’t greedy — some wanted to take a quilt to their mom or grandmother instead. But we take extra quilts just for those situations.”
Many quilters have donated their own supplies and money, said Biggi, but the demand is greater than what volunteers are able to pay for. Organizers are now spreading the word that donations would be greatly appreciated.
“Fire can leave such a scar in a child’s life,” said Judy Speller, a Monday volunteer who was ironing the binding — or outer edge of a quilt— in preparation for assembly. “This is one positive thing just for them. Knowing what this can mean to a child who’s lost everything, whose home looks like a bomb scene, it just gives you goose bumps.”