Viewpoints

Want to reach out to residents of fire-ravaged areas? Pick up a pen

A flag is draped on the back of a truck destroyed by fire in Santa Rosa.
A flag is draped on the back of a truck destroyed by fire in Santa Rosa. AP

It’s been a brutal time, a relentless stream of tragedy and heartache. Hurricanes, flooding, Vegas shooting, continued war and devastation, and now the horrific fires burning in Sonoma and Napa counties.

I grew up in that area, and for me the fires are intensely personal. I readily picture the two high schools that were destroyed; I competed in speech contests at both campuses years ago. Other personal news floods in, ceaselessly.

A Facebook post alerted my high school class that one of our classmates lost her home. I’ve watched my coworker Robin Mitchell Hee’s scramble to assist her daughter Rachel, a new student at Sonoma State, who had to evacuate.

And news of immense generosity: A restaurateur I know is feeding people free of charge; a friend in Petaluma has opened his home to a family of six, including an 80-year-old grandmother.

We all want to help, and there is plenty we can do. Google “fire help Nor Cal” and you’ll find a long list of things you can do.

And here’s another, more personal way to lend a hand from here at home: Share a few written words of support. The random kindness of a stranger can provide so much comfort to someone in distress. This is something I was reminded of at a recent meeting of the Pismo Coast Association of Realtors.

This group of about 50 attendees meets every week, and every week, Linda Osty, longtime South County volunteer and owner of Osty Insurance Agency, asks people to write a line or two on postcards she then sends to military men and women. Two weeks ago, Linda mentioned her nephew, a new Marine, who was having a tough time. Linda asked for notes of encouragement and the group stepped up.

Devastating wildfires in Northern California and the wine country that are becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history leave lives lost, towns evacuated, residents displaced.

I was struck by both the power of this action as well as the simplicity of it. And, with thanks to Linda for the inspiration, we are creating a version of it for residents of Marin and Sonoma counties.

The plan is simple. With the help of our friends at the UPS Store in the Marigold Center and Coastal Reprographic Services, we have produced a boatload of postcards you can sign and we will deliver.

The message is simple. Side one: “Sending Love and Support from SLO County.” Side two: “We may live 200 miles away, but we hold you close in our thoughts.” There is room for you to add a brief personal message.

What we need now are people to write on the cards — and quickly. We’ll make it easy.

Send an email to WeCare@barnettcox.com and tell us how many cards you can use. We’ll deliver and pick up as needed (collection points are also being organized), then add to the big bag of cards headed to shelters, churches, businesses and schools. Anyone who has lived through the devastation — fire loss or not — can benefit from a human connection. Lines as simple as “Thinking of you,” “Hang in there,” “I am so sorry for what you’re dealing with” are all that’s needed. The power springs from your personal touch.

I’m writing to ask Tribune readers to pitch in and make someone who is hurting feel just a little bit better.

We want to share the strength of our community with one who can use a shoulder to lean on right now. We’re looking for anyone, any age. A group of employees; a business; a soccer team or Girl Scout troop; a school; a club; a church congregation… You get the idea. We need you.

And if you’re not familiar with the fire area, just know it has much in common with our county. Beautiful hillsides and rolling vineyards. A bustling small business community and a growing tech sector. Hotels and tourism and fierce local pride. And like any place anywhere, it has people; in this case, people who have suffered tremendous loss and must resume life in a shell-shocked new reality. We can help.

Special thanks to The Tribune for allowing a Viewpoint of a different kind, and for being an important connection point in our community. And keep an eye on Facebook for additional information and updates.

Maggie Cox is a longtime San Luis Obispo County resident. She and her husband, Dave, are owners of Barnett Cox & Associates, a local public relations and marketing firm.

Massive wildfires continue to sweep through Northern California's wine region, forcing emergency evacuations and destroying more than 2,000 buildings. The fires began Sunday evening, though the initial cause is under investigation.

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