California State University, Chico announced this week that its Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund has distributed more than $661,000 to 534 students, faculty, and staff impacted by wildfire since early November.
As the first flames in what would become known as the Camp Fire began burning their way through the towns of Pulga, Concow, Magalia, and Paradise on November 8, 2018, it soon became clear many students and employees would be severely affected. Campus leadership quickly jumped into action to help, establishing the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund on November 10 to provide financial assistance.
Word about the recovery fund and the link to donate spread quickly across social media and its other communication channels. And the University’s Research Foundation quickly partnered with JP Morgan Chase Bank to establish a channel to distribute vitally needed funds. As part of the collaborative effort, the Office of the President emailed a needs-assessment survey to determine the impacts to the campus community and better understand the kind of help needed. This found that many were looking for short-term funds to assist before government or insurance payments arrived—money for gas, groceries, and other basic needs.
On November 19, just 11 days after the Camp Fire changed the lives of so many, the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund distributed its initial round of funding: $160,250 went out to 239 University students and employees. Some recipients received traditional paper checks in the mail. Others obtained their grants electronically to begin the rebuilding process, whatever that looked like, no matter where they were.
“I feel so blessed to have all of this support from the University,” said Angela Casler, a lecturer in the Department of Management. “This money will help me replace my passport and naturalization papers. All of these small items to replace really do add up. Thank you for all that you are doing to help my family! I am unbelievably proud to be a Wildcat!”
Eight subsequent fund distributions went out in November, December, and January.
“The heartbeat of this institution is our community and our people who come together in a moment of crisis in support of each other,” said Vice President for University Advancement Ahmad Boura. “Providing the financial means to begin the rebuilding process for our students, faculty, and staff is the greatest investment we could make.”
To date, financial gifts to the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund from 5,179 donors have totaled $675,110.70. This includes donors from 49 states, as well as internationally from Canada and Japan. In total, the University has granted $661,000, including $437,000 to 376 students and $224,000 to 158 faculty and staff. Additionally, a loan program supported 26 employees with loans for $58,500.
As funds were dispersed, words of gratitude and thanks from recipients poured in.
“I just wanted to express how thankful I am for all of that Chico State has done to help my family and me,” wrote senior animal science major Serena Hineser-Howard. “It means so much.”
While applications for aid closed in December and any remaining funds received to the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund will be distributed to those applicants, the Chico State Basic Needs Project will continue to support students affected by the fire in the long term through its work fighting food and housing insecurity.
“Thank you so much for bringing hope to our community. The funds I received from the Wildcat Recovery Grants were truly lifesaving. I will be forever grateful,” credential student Vanessa Stewart wrote in a letter of thanks.
Dwight Seuser has led administrative oversight for the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund from the very beginning and continues to do so, along with vital help from his application review committee.
“Rick Ford, Elizabeth Alaniz, Sharon Barios, Josh James, and Tawnie Peterson have been invaluable in this process,” Seuser said, “Without their help, our campus community would not have been able to begin to rebuild their lives.”
The recovery from the devastating Camp Fire remains ongoing, as does the University’s steadfast support of its campus community. The generous support of donors continues to this day, and funds continue to be dispersed to those in need.