When evacuees from the Moc fire headed out from homes in Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake, and surrounding areas, many found themselves in Oakdale.
And the reception they got was unexpected, overwhelming – and definitely appreciated.
Front desk clerk Monique Poe at the Holiday Inn Express on East F Street in Oakdale said when she realized they were getting many fire evacuees, she posted on Facebook that they were looking for help with meal preparation and said the response was immediate.
“I had so many people say ‘let me help’ – people are paying for rooms, people are sending in money via Venmo … it’s truly a beautiful thing to see,” Poe said.
Quickly joining in the effort were Jo Harris and Jaylene Ponce, with Facebook posts bringing in all kinds of donations, especially monetary, which was then used to purchase food, drinks, clothes, pet supplies and more.
Among the recipients of the outpouring of support was Maryse Gascard, a resident of Pine Mountain Lake, who evacuated her home last Thursday.
“We managed to find our way here,” she said of landing in Oakdale.
For Gascard, seeing a dinner buffet put on for them shortly after their arrival was just the first of many surprises.
“I started crying when I first saw it, I was teary eyed, it was overwhelming,” she said of the community’s generosity.
Evacuees have been provided with food since their unexpected stay in the area, teams of volunteers preparing and serving. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all available for evacuees.
“With everything that has been going on, there’s still good people out there,” Gascard said.
She will be in the area, with her cat, until it is safe to return to her home.
There is a spot in the hotel lobby where updates are posted on the Moc fire, so residents can try to keep tabs on what is happening in their area.
“We have 52 families that arrived, many of them with what they were standing in,” Harris explained. “Some of them had to leave on 15 minutes’ notice.”
Because of COVID, the hotel didn’t have a huge supply of food, as occupancy was down. With the arrival of that many families, the needs were immediate, including food to feed the evacuees.
Harris said there have been plenty of supplies and donations coming in, allowing for the purchase of clothing and essential supplies, along with items like puzzle books, playing cards and puzzles. There have also been donations made that will go to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora, which is also an evacuation site, and still other items will be sent to firefighters.
Ponce and a crew spent a lot of time and money at Costco, laying in a ton of supplies and also went to some discount stores for clothing and essential toiletries and snacks.
Harris said they purchased some brand new clothes, in sizes from infant to man’s 5X, just to make sure they had something for everyone.
According to Ponce, donations from several sources added up to about $6,000 within the first few days, including PayPal, Apple Pay, cash, and Venmo.
After the purchases, there was a little less than $500 left from the initial round of donations.
“We will see the needs over the next few days and if we are good we will use this to pay for hotel rooms,” Ponce said.
Poe said people have also been calling, asking if they can pay for hotel rooms for the evacuees, church groups and community volunteers from Oakdale, Riverbank, Escalon and beyond have come in to help prepare and serve food; local restaurants have joined in the effort – including The Food Dude, who was the first to offer services. Restaurants from surrounding communities have also contributed to help feed the evacuees.
Barbara Tapper is one evacuee who has been through this before.
“We lost our home in Paradise,” she said, noting that she relocated to Groveland after that fire. She was returning from a doctor’s appointment in the Bay area last week when she found her way home blocked; and was one of those that ended up in Oakdale. Her dog, Misty – a rescue dog – was still at home in Groveland and she was able to contact a friend in hopes of getting her dog out. Misty is now at the hotel.
“She’s making friends here,” Tapper reported.
For her part, Tapper is also grateful to a community that has welcomed them with open arms.
“People are so helpful, you often see this evil world out there but you don’t see the good,” she explained. “We are seeing the good.”
And for Poe – whose own father lost his house in the Paradise fire – this effort is near and dear to her heart.
“Our community is amazing,” she said.