Community in a shelter full of strangers

This is another in a series of stories we are posting on this regional blog related to the American Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire disaster:

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Red Cross cots and blankets await evacuees earlier this week at the Marin County Fairgrounds shelter.

To see more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire, please go here.

By Taylor Poisall,
American Red Cross

In a room filled to capacity, a sense of community was present.

“It’s actually been really nice. There’s a sense of bonding that makes us all feel like close neighbors” said Cathy, who moved to Northern California a few years ago from the East Coast. This was her first time ever staying in a shelter.My daughter has had a great time; it’s like she has been at camp. She played games with other children, read books from the mobile library, and visited with many elderly residents.”

Throughout the day, residents of the shelter were found huddled with their cell phones around AT&T Charging Stations, walking their dogs outside, while others played board games together and read books from the mobile library. A TV was set up later that night for those who wanted to watch the news.


Smoke from the nearby Kincade Fire mars the California blue sky. Photo by Lindsay Peak, American Red Cross

When asked how she was feeling, Cathy was so excited that she got over 9 hours of sleep the night before. After a night filled with emergency alerts and packing their belongings early Sunday morning, she felt safe in the shelter.

“This was my first time evacuating. I didn’t know that there would be food here. There are all these different restaurants are coming to us. Would you look at this, it’s organic.”

When the officials gave their nightly briefing to the shelter Monday evening, the room cheered after hearing the fire containment went up 10 percent that day. They attentively listened to both English and Spanish reports from Cal Fire, San Rafael Fire Department, Public Health, and other officials as they awaited news about their homes. The speakers received several rounds of clapping, especially after learning it was National First Responder Day. People are understandably anxious to get back to their homes, but also do not want to risk their safety going back home only to have to evacuate again.

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Governor Gavin Newsom visited a shelter in Petaluma this week, offering support and encouragement to clients. (Photo: Jim Burns | American Red Cross)

Another evacuee named Dina thanked the Red Cross for easing her fears and making her feel comfortable. This wasn’t her first time evacuating, but it too was her first time in a shelter, and she missed her cats. She was grateful for all the various services and resources throughout the shelter. She even called a disaster worker’s mom to thank her for raising a generous person.

“Everyone has been so nice.”


You can help people affected by disasters like wildfires and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small.

  • Call, click, or text to give: visit, call 1-800 RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • To donate by check or to a specific cause, please complete the donation form on and print and mail to your local Red Cross chapter.
  • The Red Cross honors donor intent. Donors can designate their donation to relief efforts for the California wildfires by indicating this in the memo line of a check or in the donation form.

Thank you!