SANTA ROSA, CA (November 10, 2017) – The Tubbs Fire that raced through this area last month destroying 1,700 homes and claiming the lives of at least 29 people had been a hellish experience for residents, many of whom had to flee their home in the middle of the night with minutes to spare and driving with flames on either side of the roads.
Last Saturday Redwood Covenant Church and other area Covenant congregations gave them something to smile about when its Fall Fun Fest entertained more than 6,000 people.
That was more than twice the number of attendees than at any time during the previous 21 years the church had put on the event. That it was held at all was a tribute to what can happen when churches use their resources to help one another, said Dan Ferguson, connections pastor at Redwood.
The week of the fire leaders of Redwood, Bayside Church of Granite Bay, as well as superintendent Paul Wilson and Anita Eyer of the Pacific Southwest Conference, met to discuss how to respond to the ongoing disaster. Redwood already was sheltering evacuees, and some of their staff didn’t know whether their own homes were still standing.
During the meeting, someone wondered whether Redwood should cancel the Fun Fest, which they had been hosting for 21 years but was now only a month away. Preparations for the event would be time-consuming, and obviously other immediate needs were more important.
The answer: “Someone said, ‘Not only should we do it, we should kick it up about five notches and give the community some laughter and joy,’” Ferguson recalled.
Bayside committed hundreds of volunteers, and many members of Marin Covenant Church also helped put on the event. Bayside also contributed much of the funding to make it possible.
There were at least two dozen inflatables, a tyke train ride, an obstacle course, carnival rides, games outside and in every room of the church, as well as a DJ, food, and more. It was more country fair than Fun Fest, quipped Efrem Smith, a Bayside pastor who preached that Sunday morning service at Redwood.
The church also set up the event so kids could go trick-or-treating. Many wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise because their neighborhoods had been destroyed.
From 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the church opened the event to families with special needs so they could more easily enjoy the experience without the crowds. The church then opened the Fun Fest at 4 p.m. to the rest of the community.
“When we opened at 4, we had traffic jams going both ways,” Ferguson said. “The church parking lot filled up in 15 minutes. A business across the street let them use their lot, and a shuttle bus help transport people.”
Earlier in the day, volunteers from Bayside helped a local school district move the contents of one campus to its two other campuses in just two hours. The campus, which also included the district offices, was untouched by the fire but the neighborhood around it had been destroyed. The threat of toxic chemicals from the incinerated homes made it impossible for the campus to be used. Ferguson had told the school superintendent to let him know if there was any way the church could help the district.
The superintendent later called and told Ferguson that the district needed help with the move. It was the same day as the Fun Fest, and the pastor wasn’t sure how he was going to fulfill his promise.
So he called Jim Volinski, one of Bayside’s pastors, who replied, “Don’t worry. We got it.”
The superintendent also told Ferguson that 213 students and 16 faculty and staff had lost their homes, so the church donated $100 gift cards with money that had been donated.
Ferguson is still in awe of the assistance their church received from Bayside. “There’s no way we could have done this without Bayside,” he said. “They were amazing.”
In addition to sending volunteers, Bayside held a second offering at each of its five campuses, which brought in a record $385,000, and another $100,000 came in later, Ferguson said. So far, offerings from the Pacific Southwest Conference have totaled more than $75,000.
Bayside programming director Angie Wysocki said, “The Redwood staff are the real heroes. They were worried at the time of the fire about their families and whether their homes were still standing, but they were at the church serving everyone else.”