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Nov. 20, 2018 / 2:11 AM GMT
By Dareh Gregorian
The town of Lincoln, California, is banding together to help the wildfire victims try to have a happy Thanksgiving.
Residents of the Sacramento suburb — population 47,000 — are putting aside their own Thanksgiving Day plans to serve meals to those who’ve been displaced by the widespread destruction.
“It’s going to be a good night out to get their minds off what’s happened,” one of the organizers, Jeannette Bermudez, told NBC News on Monday.
The event was “thrown together pretty fast because all of this happened so fast,” said another organizer, Jack Montgomery, 38.
Lincoln is about an hour and half south of the Camp Fire wildfires, which have ravaged over 150,000 acres in northern California, decimating 11,713 homes, destroying the town of Paradise and killing 79 people as of Monday night.
Nearly 700 people were still missing after the blaze, authorities said Monday — a number that was nearly half of what it had been a few days before.
The smoke from the fires has been so thick that schools were closed in Lincoln, about 70 miles away.
“All of last week was bad,” said Bermudez, by day a medical receptionist in Lincoln.
She said she was watching the news about the damage last week with her 9-year-old son.
“He said, ‘What are we going to do about it?'” Bermudez recalled.
She decided to put together a Thanksgiving dinner for those who’d been displaced — there were hundreds of them staying in hotels around Lincoln.
“I reached out to a friend about cooking some turkeys and taking them to the hotels,” she said. Others wanted to help too, so they launched a Facebook event. The dinner started becoming bigger and bigger.
The local fire department held a turkey drive that resulted in over 100 turkeys being donated. The city of Lincoln offered up its event space, McBean Pavilion, for free. A local casino offered up buses for transportation to and from hotels. Companies were donating games and arts and crafts to keep kids busy. Townspeople and local restaurants and stores were cooking up food for the event.
My Dog’s Spot, a local dog grooming shop, offered to house victims’ pets during the dinner — and to give them a bath and some grooming if needed, Bermudez said.
“They’ll be loved on and spoiled while their owners enjoy dinner,” she said.
Montgomery, who works as a landscaper in Lincoln, is cooking up 20 of the donated turkeys in a deep fryer. Instead of having Thanksgiving at his family’s home, he and his relatives and friends will spend the day serving fire victims.
“A lot of people gave up their Thanksgiving dinners at home to be able to serve food and talk to people,” he told NBC News.
Bermudez originally planned to take her three children to her mother’s in Antelope, Calif., a little further to the south. Now, her mother and their relatives will come to Lincoln to help out at the dinner.
“It was hard to justify sitting have this big feast while other people are in such need,” she said.
Bermudez said she’s hopeful the spirit of the holiday will carry on well past the dinner.
“My hope is they meet people from the community and they’re able to make a relationship,” she said. “That’s my big hope.”