ARNOLD, CA (September 28, 2015) — Three weeks ago, the woman and her young granddaughter who lives with her were left homeless when the Butte Fire reduced their house to ashes. The woman’s husband was killed two years ago in a car accident. It had been tragedy upon tragedy.
But sometimes small things can bring at least a glimmer of relief. For her, it was the bowls from the dollhouse china set she had held onto since childhood and almost certainly were destroyed in the fire. Jill Jodie, director of family ministries at Chapel in the Pines Covenant Church, was sifting through the ashes during cleanup work on Saturday when she found the bowls.
The woman was thrilled. “It was moving and rewarding to help a family that had endured so much loss in the last few years,” said Chris Kalton, pastor of Chapel in the Pines.
“After signing a Bible with encouraging words for the homeowner, we prayed for the hope of Christ in her life and truly believe that the Lord brought hope to her family that day,” Kalton said.
Kalton and Jodie were part of a team of volunteers from the church working alongside the Christian nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse to help people throughout Calaveras County sift through what was left of their homes and clean up their property.
Members from all six Covenant congregations in the area are assisting in multiple ways, including providing food, finances, furniture, and clothing.
San Andreas Community Covenant Church is housing as many as 70 volunteers a day who have come to the area to work with Samaritan’s Purse.
“These volunteers are supplemented each day with local volunteers from the community,” said Phil Sommerville, interim pastor at the church. “They are going out every day with homeowners to sift through the ashes of their homes to look for valuables and heirlooms that may not have burned, such as jewelry, military medals, coins, et cetera. It is a huge blessing to families because when the state contractors come in to do the site cleanup, all they are going to do is scoop it all up and take it away.”
Eight families from the church lost their homes. No other Covenant congregation in the area had as many people affected by the fire. The homes were among 475 destroyed by the fire that ignited on September 9 and eventually scorched 71,000 acres. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the blaze is currently 93 percent contained.
While the fire raged, Good Samaritan Community Covenant Church in Valley Springs served as a Red Cross evacuation center and sheltered at least a dozen people in their building while also keeping their food and clothing pantry open around the clock.
The state has been helping those families as well as others relocate. There are virtually no rental properties available in the area because so many families have been temporarily resettled there.
Kalton said county officials have asked Chapel in the Pines for donations of furniture and other items for the displaced residents.
Members of the Murphys Covenant Church left the community at the height of the fire when officials issued a mandatory evacuation order. They all returned home to find that none had lost property.
The church did not hold services September 13, but participated in an outdoor worship service and picnic with Grace Hills Covenant Church in Angels Camp that had already been scheduled.
All of the Covenant congregations held services the past two Sundays with at least several of them having extended times of prayer.
The San Andreas church already had a Super Family Fund Sunday scheduled for October 18 in the park next to the church. The annual event is open to the community and will include a magic show, carnival games, and other activities.
“It is an opportunity to come out with the family, set your troubles aside, and have a lot of fun,” Sommerville said. “Last year, over 500 people came from a town of 2,600. This year, given the circumstances, we expect even more.”
To contribute funds, send checks to Butte Fire Relief and Rebuilding Fund at San Andreas Community Covenant Church, 261 Treat Avenue, San Andreas, CA 95249. Note that the donation is for the fund.