Peninsula JCC volunteers delivering relief items to American Medical Response in San Mateo, Oct. 13, 2017 (Photo/Courtesy PJCC)
Peninsula JCC volunteers delivering relief items to American Medical Response in San Mateo, Oct. 13, 2017 (Photo/Courtesy PJCC)

From dog food to diapers: Bay Area JCCs mobilize to help fire victims

Two buses rolled out of the Peninsula JCC’s parking lot in Foster City this morning, packed with everything from dog food to diapers, donations headed for victims of the still-raging Wine Country wildfires.

Boxes of canned food, toilet paper, pillows, blankets and toothpaste all were on board. Three JCC staff members accompanied the cache of supplies, which were loaded onto trucks in Burlingame and then sent north toward those evacuated or left homeless by fires that so far have claimed 31 lives and scorched 212,000 acres.

It was part of the Bay Area Jewish community’s rapid response to the fires, which has included similar collection efforts at JCCs in San Francisco and Berkeley. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has sent staffers to the affected area to determine how the institution can help victims. It and the Jewish Community Federation of the East Bay are also accepting financial donations through the North Bay Wildfire Emergency Fund.

At the PJCC, donated goods had filled two classrooms after supplies were dropped off yesterday, from before dawn until late at night.

“We announced a collection on Wednesday afternoon around 4:00, and the first SUV showed up packed to the brim at 7:30 and it just never stopped,” said Stephanie Levin, director of programs for the PJCC. “People were still coming in as we were pulling the buses away this morning.”

Other nearby Jewish institutions took part in the project as well, including Peninsula Temple Beth El, the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School, Congregation Beth Jacob, Peninsula Temple Sholom and Peninsula Sinai Congregation. The collected goods were sorted at American Medical Response, an ambulance service near San Francisco International Airport — where smoke from the fires was delaying or canceling flights.

Cases of cat and dog food were loaded onto a truck headed for the Marin Humane Society, along with pet beds. Toiletries, clothing, food and paper goods were loaded into other trucks, headed for places such as Congregation Shomrei Torah, a Santa Rosa synagogue that has become a hub for victims and aid efforts.

Fire relief donations in the East Bay JCC sukkah (Photo/Courtesy East Bay JCC)
Fire relief donations in the JCC East Bay sukkah (Photo/Courtesy JCC East Bay)

At the JCC East Bay in Berkeley, Anna Stofle was leading a collection drive as well as making trips to the affected areas since Tuesday to deliver supplies. Some of the goods were stored in the JCC East Bay’s sukkah until they could be delivered to drop-off locations in Sonoma and Napa counties.

“It’s been a really amazing experience being able to give these people water and diapers and toiletries and pillows, things that they need just to make it through the day,” said Stofle, assistant director for a JCC East Bay afterschool program, who added that donated goods were accepted until yesterday.

Levin said the PJCC also has stopped accepting donations of supplies because “places in the North Bay are running out of storage space for the goods, they need to prioritize people over goods.”

Instead, people wishing to help victims are being asked to donate gift cards of at least $25 from stores such as Target, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Walgreens that can be dropped off at the PJCC for distribution at Shomrei Torah. The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto also was collecting similar gift cards.

The San Francisco JCC said donation barrels in the front lobby will remain in place until Oct. 20.

Levin said she was overwhelmed by the response of mid-Peninsula congregations, schools and individuals.

“We do donation drives throughout the year, and we get a nice response — we fill a couple of barrels. I have never seen anything like this in my life,” she said. “You could barely open the door to the rooms this morning because they were filled to the brim.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.