Update Nov. 11, 2018: After the devastating Camp Fire broke out in Northern California, Curtis Nelson announced he was filling his bus with donations for fire victims again.
A 40-foot gold-colored party bus has been shuttling across the Golden Gate Bridge, filled to the brim with donations from local businesses for those impacted by the Northern California wildfires.
“I thought I might as well help the people out with my bus, but I didn’t think it would be this big of a deal,” said Curtis Nelson with a laugh. “I just decided to do it because I was able to.”
Nelson, 33, an interior painter from Vallejo, calls the party bus the “Twerkulator” -- derived from the word “twerking." He has taken the bus to Burning Man and a family reunion in Ohio. It was originally used to transport federal inmates in Indiana, but Nelson “took the bad energy out of it” by converting it to a gold bus -- and now by helping out fire victims.
Since the deadly fires began on Oct. 8, they have claimed more than 40 lives and destroyed over 200,000 acres. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated, but they are beginning to return home. However, many of those impacted will face challenges in resuming normal life, with property damaged and entire houses gone.
Nelson put out the call to his friends after the fires broke out, and by Tuesday they were collecting items from local businesses all over the Bay Area to deliver to the fire victims. Among the many donations: 700 pairs of $95 Allbirds shoes, clothing from Love on Haight, duffel bags filled with deodorant and shaving cream, and gallons of water. Nelson’s bus made three full trips -- each time filled to the top.
Nelson said he wanted it to be a “community effort,” so he wasn’t interested in giving items to major organizations like the Red Cross that have been asking mostly for financial donations. “We’re giving this to everyone," he said. "We don’t want to give it to someone who delegates who gets what."
The items were distributed to shelters and hubs in Petaluma, American Canyon, Vallejo and San Francisco. Shuttling back and forth, Nelson had some problems when it came to delivering items to locations that were not accepting them. However, one hub that was especially helpful was Jamison's Roaring Donkey, a bar in Petaluma that had runners taking items to specific shelters accepting them.
“I got so much love," Nelson said. "I exchanged numbers with the owners of the bar and people there. When they called me back to do a load up north, there were so many people there from the city of Petaluma cheering me that I came up with a bus to load it all up. It was a live community.”
Nelson said that when he is driving his bus, people usually honk and give him a thumbs-up, but that "it definitely feels way better to have someone come up to you to say thank you."
“I’ll probably do one more run this week,” he said.