Autumn Knight grew up in Paradise and Los Angeles, and she spent much of her childhood as a Girl Scout. Her mom Kate was her troop leader.
So when the Camp Fire ripped through Paradise last month, Kate put out the call to troops in Los Angeles County looking for donations to help fire survivors at Autumn's church in Paradise, Hope Christian Church, which was destroyed in the blaze.
Everyone wanted to help, but no one wanted to be in charge of actually gathering and delivering the donations. So Kate and Autumn took it on. They expanded the call beyond the Girl Scout community and created a Facebook group to find out what church members — around 300 before the fire — said they needed.
Kate and Autumn decided to package the donations into the form of suitcases, filling them with clothes, shoes, books and toys, all specifically requested by church members.
“The whole point with the suitcase is that we understand [survivors] don't have houses and places to put [things],” Autumn said.
One item that has been in particular high demand are gas cards, since survivors have had to drive significant distances since being displaced.
“One of the problems is that people needed specific things, and Kate and Autumn have been able to provide them,” said Stan Freitas, lead pastor of Hope Christian Church.
Autumn was sleeping over at her friend’s house in Paradise when the fire erupted. She said she barely escaped with her friends after her boyfriend and others kept calling them and telling them to evacuate. She says they didn't receive any official evacuation warnings.
Until last year, Autumn lived in Paradise with her grandmother. The fire destroyed that house, but her grandmother was able to escape.
Autumn now lives in an apartment in Chico where she moved to be closer to Butte College, where she goes to school. Her apartment wasn't damaged in the fire, but she and her roommates have taken in friends who lost their homes.
In addition to housing friends, Autumn has been working with her mom to gather and give away smaller donations like body wash, deodorant and toothbrushes to church members and friends. So far, the pair has collected 40 or 50 suitcases and are in the process of filling all of them with donations. Some have been sent out of state, where church members have fled following the fire.
This weekend, Kate is bringing a carload of suitcases up to Chico, and she and Autumn plan to deliver them to the congregation on Sunday.
Both women are afraid that people will soon forget about the disaster and the people struggling to recover.
“My worry is people are going to start to forget about Paradise, but all the people in Paradise are still going to have this trauma,” Kate said.
Autumn says that’s what happened to the people displaced from the destructive Carr Fire in Redding earlier this year. “Once it was contained, that was the end of it,” she said.
The pair say they are committed to continuing to help Camp Fire victims. They are already collecting donation items such as dishes, bookshelves, beds and sofas in anticipation that those will be the next things survivors will need when they start to move out of their shelters.