Solidarity Thicker Than Smoke

As fires consumed the region around the city of Santa Rosa, the USF community jumped into action to help students and faculty displaced by the fires under the leadership of Daniela Dominguez, the coordinator for the Marriage and Family Therapy program for the Santa Rosa campus.


“Given the devastation caused by the fires in our region, most of our students have had to evacuate or have been temporarily displaced,” Dominguez said.


At least four members of the Santa Rosa campus community even lost their homes in the flames, according to Dominguez.


Courtney Masterson, assistant professor in the Department of Management, also helped organize local efforts to collect supplies for the Santa Rosa shelters from USF locations in San Francisco. She sent out an email asking for donations and volunteers, and along with monetary donations, found people willing to collect supplies for her in the library and in the Mission district.


Between the bins at all of the San Francisco donation sites and monetary contributions, USF collected about $3,000 worth of donations, according to Dominguez. The bins at the downtown location were filled so high, Masterson said, they were up to her shoulders. One donor wrote notes of support and tied them to towels they planned on donating.


“People were […] going to the next level to demonstrate compassion and care,” Masterson said. She enlisted the help of 20 students in her class to move all of the supplies into vehicles.


Some student and faculty volunteers also traveled to the city of Santa Rosa, where they helped evacuees at Elsie Allan High School, a temporary evacuation shelter which was housed in the gym. Volunteers helped check people into the shelter, distribute supplies, serve healthy meals, provide mental health services, sort supplies and distract the community with activities such as sports and reading.


Gar Kevranian, a student volunteer and graduate student in the Masters in Counseling Psychology Marriage and Family Therapy Program, said “I felt super compelled to help, but as a student, couldn’t really afford purchasing supplies or having much to donate.”


After receiving an email from Dominguez, Kevranian decided to go to Santa Rosa to help in relief efforts. “Getting into the smoke was overwhelming; I didn’t know what to say and my classmate and I were silent in my car driving up. It was eerie, sad and intense,” Kevranian said of her experience entering Santa Rosa. “Getting to the [high school] gym was also an intense experience, both in seeing all the volunteers and donations and feeling humbled and moved by it, and in seeing the scope of how many people had been displaced.”


“We also aimed to bring a positive energy, spirit, and love to all of those who were displaced and show solidarity for our fellow USF students who are in our hearts and prayers,” Kevranian said.


Back at the USF campus, student organizations also got involved. Students handed out food and collected monetary donations for the fire during the major/minor fair last Thursday. The student-servers were part of the Community Garden Outreach service learning class,.  Every few weeks, the class puts on a “farm stand” where they hand out free, healthy, home-grown meals using produce grown in the community garden. This semester, for the first time, they started taking donations. Class member and senior French major Keats Willis said that the obvious destinations for donations this semester was Santa Rosa.


“This time, I think because it was so close to home, and there were so many different people in our class that had a lot of family being affected, and friends, it was really kind of no question,” Willis said, “It’s about community, too […] the community of food and how food can bring people together. Then with donations it’s great how we can build that solidarity amongst each other when we serve this food, and that it’s going to a good cause.”  


Shannon Gary, Dean of Students, and Don Crean, acting director for Resident Ministry, will be leading a prayer vigil on Oct. 26 at 3 p.m. at the Santa Rosa campus.


Featured Photo: USF student volunteers sorted through clothing donations for those affected by the Santa Rosa fires. Courtesy of Daniela Dominguez.


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