Greenville resident opens Miracle City in Chico
The day the Camp Fire began, Ken Donnell knew he had to do something. Like many Plumas County residents, Donnell had family, friends and business in Butte County and felt those ties calling him into action.
He also needed to know more of what was going on. Donnell headed to Chico the long way around (both highways 70 and 32 were still closed so only Highway 36 was open) to see for himself. What he saw was shocking, including the tent city that had sprung up in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Chico. He headed back up the mountain and started collecting supplies to bring directly to the parking lots in Chico that were beginning to swell with fire survivors.
Donnell brought trailers of clothing, toiletries and medical supplies down — not through official channels of nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross, but through immediate distribution.
Down in the parking lots, Donnell and other volunteers handed out bags that they had collected of whatever people needed.
Then he headed up the hill to do it all again. The immediacy of donating nearly directly resonated with Indian Valley folks. They donated more. It felt good to see things go to good use so directly.
During that first week of the Camp Fire, something struck Donnell to his core. Perhaps a new-found sense of purpose. Perhaps the witnessing of people coming together for good for a change.
He talked to people he knew in the business community in Chico. The scale of need is overwhelming, but the scale of people willing to lend a hand is huge as well.
Donnell was handed the keys to the now empty Toys R Us building in Chico. He turned the key and began Miracle City — a distribution center of donations, food, showers, and toilets at the site of the old store — bringing new hope to residents of Butte County affected by the fire.
“With love, respect, and with reverence to the power of hope, I welcome you to join this great work to save lives, and to save the life within those lives. Together, we are creating a chain of healing and recovery, which stretches across California, our Nation, and the World itself,” said Donnell on his Gift of Music website, californiagiftofmusic.org.
By day two of Miracle City, Donnell and volunteers had served hundreds of people.
“We opened our doors to fire refugees at 10 a.m. today, and by the end of this second day, we had provided several hundred fire refugees with much needed supplies, transformed a disheveled mess into a functional distribution center, begun to offer counseling and social services, and established a 30,000 square-foot warehouse capable of storing long-term relief supplies available to every relief agency and shelter across the region,” said Donnell.
On his blog, Donnell chronicles the everyday miracles of people in the region banding together to help one another. There’s a catering company down from Portland, Oregon serving food in the parking lot. There’s a U-Haul kitchen organized to give out Indian food from a Sikh Community of Northern California. A biking group known as the Kings of Cali helped out, too.
Miracle City is privately funded. Donnell is hoping a local nonprofit or government agency can or will step in and take control. But he didn’t feel like he could wait for that. When he got down to Chico that first day, everything was worse than he’d ever anticipated. Nothing could wait. So he sought help from private citizens and organizations to help the cause.
A fund has been set up to raise money for Camp Fire survivors through Miracle City: fundly.com/raising-money-for-camp-fire-survivors .
“There are refugee camps and tent cities all over southeast Chico — 5,000 or 10,000 people living in this situation. At the same time, a miracle of hope and recovery is taking place. It is the most beautiful and wholesome experience of my life,” said Donnell.