After the Oct. 21, 2010 fire: the first 48 hours

After the Oct. 21, 2010 fire: the first 48 hours
August 16, 2011 Betsy Stone

It’s taken many months to have the time to go back through notes and unwind the tangle of events and activities that followed River City Food Bank‘s devastating fire.  This is the first in a series of 10 weekly posts that will count down to the one year anniversary.

Eileen described how the morning unfolded an an email five days after the fire:

Last Thursday morning, my phone rang at 5 a.m.  A friend told me River City Food Bank was ablaze.

By 5:40 a.m. I was downtown to see it for myself.  The fire was still smoldering, but under control.  The first person I talked to was the fire investigator, who told me the fire started on the outside of the building, underneath the stairs in the back.  In rapid succession, we learned that the building was a loss, that 8-10,000 lbs. of food had been destroyed and that Mac the kitty had perished.  Cheese, his brother, was missing.

Four hours after the news first carried the story, the attention shifted to the multi-million dollar Galleria fire in Roseville.

With our computers and telephones gone, our first challenge was communications.  How would people reach us?  How would we reach out, let people know what we needed, and respond?

3Fold Communications, the agency introduced to us through Sutter Medical Center’s capacity-building grant, immediately set up a command center.  They contacted media on our behalf, updated the website with the current situation and instructions for clients and supporters, kept “fans” informed on Facebook, established a special online donation fund to help us rebuild, and redirected our telephone line so that calls would be recorded and turned into text messages.  They created the “Rebuild” brand to give a distinct look to our communications efforts, and called businesses to secure donations of all of the things you need to re-establish an office.  (Western Health Advantage immediately donated seven Dell PC’s and Ruland’s Office Furnishings committed to desks, chairs, tables partitions and shelving.)

We continue to be grateful for the heroic support we received that first week from Kim Tucker, Director of Nonprofit Services, and the rest of the team – especially Lesley Miller (Director of Media), Ross Villegas (Nonprofit Services Account Manager), Angela Criser (Director of Digital Strategy) and Phyllis Marker, their wonderful executive assistant.  Thanks, too, to 3Fold’s fearless leader, Gordon Fowler, for his unfaltering support behind the scenes.

We also deeply appreciated the phone calls we received from many friends in the non-profit agency world, as well as elected officials, including Congresswoman Doris Matsui and California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

Our  friends jumped into action.  That first day we realized that we would need temporary storage for the food that people began bringing to replace our lost stocks.

In rapid succession:

  • Sutter Medical Center Sacramento offered us temporary space in the unfinished retail space in the bottom of their parking garage, located across the street from our original location,
  • Businesses, individuals and organizations began calling to offer holding canned food drives and fundraisers,
  • People began driving to the old site to drop off checks,
  • Goodwill offered a large trailer to receive donated food and serve as a temporary base of operations, right there on the street,
  • By 5 p.m. the day after the fire, we had already received $6,675 from individuals through our secure online donation site, and $40,000 in pledges from several businesses.  Two businesses had started internal donation drives, and Golden One Credit Union set up an account that enabled people to drop off donations at any of their retail locations, and
  • Clear Channel donated PSA’s about our plight, and the Business Journal made a donation of space for us to communicate our needs.

The first 48 hours were heartbreaking, chaotic, exhausting… and inspiring.  See the pictures from those first few days on our flickr site.

Next: confronting the brutal reality of the work ahead

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”