On October 9th at 6:30am in the morning, the request for help came from the Petaluma police to open Petaluma Elks Lodge #901’s doors to the first responder’s families being evacuated in the neighboring cities, providing a safe place for them to refuge. By 10am, 5 families, including young children and family pets, were walking into our lodge in visible shock.
By mid-day, when the gravity of the situation set in, #901 decided to find and respond to the needs of the community. Lodge #901’s next door neighbor, Calvary Chapel, was a designated evacuation center and opened their doors to displaced families. Lodge #901 discovered that Calvary Chapel’s facility was full of people, sheltering in place, and their logistics team was hard at work trying to figure out a plan. Petaluma Elks Lodge leaders met with the Calvary Church tactical team and offered to open our kitchen and dining hall to them and to partner in the crisis.
The Calvary Church team came over to Lodge 901 and assessed our capabilities the suggestion was made by Lodge leaders to be the cafeteria for the now 180 evacuees and Calvary Chapel would be the sleeping quarters. Food donations began arriving from Calvary Chapel, Petaluma Salvation Army and a multitude of other vendors and individuals while we went to work calling volunteers for help. The Lodge sponsored Boy Scout Troop 2 responded and sent five boys to help. It was agreed upon that they would start by serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the following three days.
At 6am on Tuesday, volunteers showed up and prepped and organized and at 7am the first of the families, couples and individuals affected by the fires started showing up. By 10am, half the volunteers went into clean up mode and the other half switched to prepping for lunch. Everyone was still a little shocked, and it was obvious that we needed to get ourselves organized for what was to come, as the news was clear that the fires were traveling and expanding.
A small team of lodge members went into a Lodge conference room and developed a command center, creating operational, logistics, and menu plans, as well as assigning point people for each area. Over the next 24 hours, the Elk’s received food donations, clothing donations and prepared to be an additional shelter to supplement our neighbor Calvary church, who was now housing 180 evacuees. The Elk’s leadership organized the food, reached out for additional refrigeration, built menus for the next 5 days and started slotting volunteers in for five shifts a day around the clock.
On day three, The Elk’s started serving additional meals to the Salvation Army, first responders from Falck an emergency response company from across the street, and the Calvary Chapel volunteers. Teams were activated, serving an estimated 650 meals a day. The Lodge opened their showers to Calvary Chapel’s evacuees, accepted additional RVs in 901’s park, placed porta-potties in the parking lot, and all members and volunteers where running efficiently and working together seamlessly and effectively.
Lodge 901 also recognized they needed to start deep cleaning bathrooms and showers on a regular schedule to avoid any illnesses introduced by so many people. Several groups of volunteers stepped up and rotated shifts to clean the dining hall, bathrooms, showers and kitchen maintaining a safe and clean space for all.
The most incredible thing that resulted from this was the length community support coming together and the generosity from all those involve. Many times we had an army of people taking the time to give love, service and hope to the stream of displaced people. David Adams from the Lodge said, “Our doors were wide open to those in need.”
After a full week, the need began to diminish. After a lot of cleaning and redirecting extra food & donations, The Lodge is back to serving our members and learned lessons on how to better prepare, and act quickly and efficiently, the next time they are needed. The Elks are planning to stay in contact with the agencies and organizations that worked so closely with them. Together they plan to create agreements of intent to support each other in the future when disaster hits again. As we all say here “Sonoma County strong-Petaluma kind’.