When the Camp Fire raged through Northern California, it received national attention. It would go on to be the deadliest fire in California history, with the lives of over 80 people lost. The fire ran through Paradise, CA and has left this community reeling. In the days after the disaster, HCRN was on the ground helping to organize the local pastors and their congregations, providing information on how to navigate FEMA and other immediate needs. One of the ways HCRN provided assistance was in a support role, and working alongside Samaritan’s Purse. We introduce volunteers to Samaritan’s Purse and that’s how we came to know Nanette Hagen. Today, we sit down with her to talk about her experiences working in the wake of the Camp Fire.
Hagen arrived in Chico on January 12 to begin working with Samaritan’s Purse as a Chef to feed all of the volunteers who were sifting properties. Sifting entails going through the remains of destroyed houses and looking for items that survived the fires. When she arrived, within 15 minutes she was put to work, “I didn’t even unload until after supper that night.” It turned out the day she arrived was the last day for their previous chef. Hagen would have an assistant in the kitchen for the first three weeks of her tenure, but would then go on to work alone in feeding the volunteers for the next month. Her home base for operations during this time would be the CMA Church of Paradise, which had survived the fire and happened to have a freshly remodeled commercial kitchen.
We asked Hagen about what it was like volunteering in Paradise. She said it was difficult to put into words, but that she made so many connections while serving she felt so blessed. “Giving unselfishly of who I am to everyone there,” Hagen said, opened up not just the volunteers but the people still in Paradise. “The church staff, the grocery store staff who greeted [Hagen] by name,” as she walked in to prepare meals, the people really made the work load light.
Volunteering to sift homes is an emotional task, like most work directly after a disaster. Hagen saw these volunteers coming back at the end of the day and finding themselves desiring time to decompress. Dinner turned out to be a great time for this to happen. It was a time and place where sadness and pain could be forgotten for a short time, they had a safe place to return to and that filled Hagen with pride.
It wasn’t just volunteers, though, as homeowners made their way to CMA Church as well. Hagen told us, “I prepared a Thanksgiving meal one night. A homeowner was there and she was crying. ‘I never got a Thanksgiving meal last year.’ I said then this meal is for you.” That homeowner would continue to come visit, but she was able to step out and start helping her community herself.
There’s so much more we could talk about for Hagen’s two months, but we’ll end with this: would you come back? “In a heartbeat. When you do something that you know is helping people that is an amazing way to be of service. It’s how I show love.” Thank you to all the volunteers who have been working on the beginnings of recovery in Paradise and all through Butte County. Your efforts are so needed and always appreciated.