RVillage speaks with James "Woody" Faircloth about his mission: Gifting donated RVs to families left homeless by wildfire
Read the amazing story of how one man's caring & generosity turned into an entire movement — and how you can help, too. Please share with fellow RVers!
It's been a whole year since a devastating wildfire raced through Butte County in northern California, literally wiping out the rural town of Paradise. The "Camp" fire, named after its place of origin on Camp Creek Road, consumed more than 153,000 acres of land (bigger than Chicago), taking the lives of 85 people, destroying 14,000 homes and causing 50,000 people to become instantly homeless — the week before Thanksgiving. For the media, once the fire was out it was all over, but for those who were left behind, it was just the beginning.
In the past year, only 14 new houses have been built to replace those that were lost, yet many who call Paradise home want to continue to live, work and go to school there (the high school was spared from the fire), and raise their families, keeping alive the multi-generational history of this early gold rush town.
James “Woody” Faircloth, accompanied by his 7 year old daughter Luna — hailing from Denver and backed by a team of volunteers and generous donations, has been helping to make a difference for the people of this town. Their ongoing efforts since Thanksgiving of last year, have placed 300 people who are awaiting more permanent housing solutions, into donated RVs.
RVillage caught up with Woody on the very date of the one-year anniversary of their mission, and chatted with him about what he's been doing.
Woody & Luna's Thanksgiving Gift
A year ago this month, Woody, an account manager for Comcast, was thinking about what he could do on Thanksgiving with his then-6-year-old daughter Luna — when California's most destructive wildfire in history struck.
As he watched the news stories on TV, he couldn't ignore the losses of so many families and simply go on with his holiday plans. He wanted to help. But how? Instead of posting "thoughts and prayers" on social media for those affected, he decided to take action. He could see that their greatest need was housing.
"... a veteran sleeping in his car, a baby sleeping in a car ... it's not ok," he said.
Woody first made a post to a Facebook Fire Relief page for donations, then setup a GoFundMe to raise the money to buy a used RV. He planned to donate it to a family made homeless by the fire. After reaching out to several people on Craigslist, he found a seller who was willing to let an RV go for about a third of the listed price, to support the cause. Friends, family, and his daughter's school pitched in household supplies & food for stocking up the soon-to-be-gifted RV.
When he asked his daughter Luna how she felt about making a 1,200 mile trip on the holiday to deliver an RV, she replied, "God and Santa Claus will be really proud of us for doing this."
He says of his daughter, "She inspires me every day."
Having never set foot in an RV before, they spent the days before Thanksgiving driving the motorhome from Denver to the town of Chico — where many of the displaced Paradise residents were staying in shelters, cars and tents. Snow and high winds on their originally-planned route forced them to detour south, adding four hours to the drive. They arrived at their destination road-weary but earnest to present a family with a much-needed new "home."
Woody wrote on his Facebook page, "We simply drove the RV here over two days with the intention of being nice to someone and ended up having the best Thanksgiving ever."
En-route to their destination, word was getting out on GoFundMe and Facebook, and Woody's phone was "melting" with phone calls, emails & text messages from people who wanted to donate RVs. By the time they arrived, three more RVs were available and would be presented over the following weeks to other families.
The few days they spent in the Paradise area changed them forever. Woody shares, "Photos from media coverage just can't convey the immense tragic losses, and the look of trauma in people's eyes." As he got to know people through their stories, they were no longer strangers.
He adds, "How could we not continue to help when blessed with the opportunity to help? These people lived lives just like you and me, and suddenly lost everything they owned in an instant. They may live four states away, but we consider them to be our neighbors. Helping a neighbor in their time of need is the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised."
The Magic MultipliesAs they were headed back home, "Something magical was happening," as Woody put it. His one-time gift was growing into a movement. The GoFundMe page was exploding. People wanted to donate RVs and money for supplies and their time driving to transport them. Soon after that, an attorney in Denver offered to set up a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which is RV4CampfireFamily. Friends in Denver and California offered help with a website, and setting up a database to help match the donated RVs with the fire survivors. Later, a new friend in a town outside of Paradise offered her property to anyone needing a place to park an RV.
Weekends were soon filled with driving RVs to California, vetting survivors and coordinating volunteers to help transport donated rigs to Chico — which is located just outside of Paradise. He and Luna would make the trip across the states to stock the RVs with supplies, then present the new "homes" to more families in need.
By November of this year, 74 RVs have been placed, giving homes to 300 people with stories such as these:
- A family living in a minivan with a child being fed through a feeding tube due to cerebral palsy.
- A first responder who had pneumonia from sleeping on the floor of her truck.
- An army veteran and his family who lost everything including his Purple Heart, which was incinerated in the fire
- A single dad who lived in a tent for nine months just to be near his two sons. (As a single dad, Woody wanted help out another single dad.)
- A woman who had open-heart surgery and was released from the hospital to recover — to the truck she was living in with her boyfriend.
Woody (and Luna) and other volunteers delivered five more RVs to Paradise & Chico last weekend. There are 230 families on the wait list, which equates to about 800 people who are still in desperate need. He says he expects that number to grow as the FEMA vouchers expire for hotel stays, and the limited rental market keeps skyrocketing in price. Housing is still the most critical issue for the residents of Paradise.
How can you help?
- Donate an RV to the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (and get a tax deduction!) You do not have to transport the RV yourself. All the details explaining how to donate are on the web page. Share with anyone you know who has an RV they no longer want.
- Donate money. All funds will be used for repairs, transporting or supplying the RV to be gifted. Any amount is appreciated and really helps.
- Vote for Woody Faircloth on the CNN Heroes page.
Woody was honored to be nominated for CNN's Heroes. If selected as the winner, his organization will get $100,000 to continue their work. You can cast ten votes every day from now through December 3rd.
- Volunteer. If you're in northern California, you can volunteer your time in the Paradise area helping with RV repair, shopping & stocking RVs with houshold goods, or transporting RVs. Haulers can come from anywhere, and receive fuel reimbursement. To volunteer, email: email@example.com
At the end of our chat, Woody said: "I know why Santa does what he does." Indeed.
Check out this adorable 5-minute video of Woody & Luna on the Steve Harvey show. For more of the story, see the updates on the GoFundMe page; and for more information about the 501(c)(3)non-profit organization, see RV4CampfireFamily.org.
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