It’s been just a few months since the fires in California devastated many family and homes in the area. While everyone rushed to the aide of California, there are two people who dedicated their time and resources to help those around them. We want to shine a light on those that dedicated time, space, and everything in between to help their fellow neighbors. JBF Franchise owner Jennifer Hundley and her husband, Matt Hundley, are two of those people. We interviewed Jennifer to get her perspective on the devastating fires and their effect on the area.
Q: When you first heard about the disaster, what were your first thoughts? What was your gut feeling?
A: The evening of Sunday, Oct. 8th, my husband Matt and I smelled smoke. As one does these days, we immediately checked our Facebook news feed. The fire was in Santa Rosa, not far from where we live and too close to where we hold our twice-yearly Just Between Friends consignment events. The evacuation alerts then started coming in via Nixle. One after another, after another. We knew then something was really, really wrong. Due to the reported 90 mile an hour wind gusts on the mountain tops, the fire had spread so quickly and unpredictably that the local agencies were calling for evacuations right as the fires were engulfing neighborhoods. The alerts kept coming in throughout the night and we learned it was not just one fire, but multiple fires within Sonoma County (and neighboring Napa county) – our community.
Q: Walk me through your involvement with volunteering leading to the situation in California. What steps did you initially take to get involved? Did you have specific goals in mind at the beginning of the process? Give me a brief summary of your experience.
A: That first night of the fires, we stayed up all night following the alerts. We became more and more fearful with each report of a new fire as they seemed to be jumping around! Though miles away, at one point fires were northwest, north, northeast, east and southeast of our house. It was all too surreal. We spent hours reading social media posts from our JBF family and friends. We saw pictures and videos of raging fires as many of our friends fled their homes, questions were posted asking where they should go at 2am – voicing their struggles with leaving pets, livestock, family heirlooms and personal items behind.
It was clear that so many families fled their homes with little to nothing. We immediately kicked into action by calling our charity partner, the Active 20-30 club. Sadly, this wasn’t our first experience with wildfires. Just two years prior, we’d lent support to families affected by fires in an area called Middletown, about an hour away. We knew exactly what to do, however, this was different. This disaster was in the heart of our own community, directly affecting people we knew personally. Fortunately, we had held our largest sale to date just three weeks prior. This meant we had a record number of donations sitting in multiple storage units waiting to be distributed – a timely blessing! Within hours we had mobilized a small army of volunteers, hung clothes and organized shoes, linens, gear, books, toys, etc. Essentially, we had set up a mini “JBF Freetail” space inside the hallways of a huge storage facility. We packaged up bag after bag with of a week’s worth of children’s clothes – matching outfits, a coat, sweater, and pajamas. This enabled families to quickly grab what they needed and for volunteers to hand deliver bags to families in evacuation centers. Evacuees were so thankful to receive these bags!
Something different about our JBF donations – they were all pre-organized by gender, size, type, and each bag was labeled. This made for quick and efficient distribution. During the Middletown fires, we had seen the outpouring of donations first-hand. Enormous piles of disorganized donations inside and outside. Imagine being a mom who just lost everything and you need to find a pair of size 4 shoes for your toddler, size 3-month clothing for your newborn and a pack n play amongst utensils, mixed clothing and knickknacks – an overwhelming task no doubt! Throughout the first eight days of the fires, we received and fulfilled hundreds of requests for items either for pick up or delivery. We also assisted many families who came in to “shop” our “JBF free sale.” Some of these families were our JBF community, many others had simply heard about our efforts to help the community. As the days stretched into weeks and families found temporary or even more permanent housing, we continued to open up the storage facility to serve those who had lost everything. You don’t realize how much you need for a child until you have your first or when you lose absolutely everything!!
Q: Talk to me about some of the people you met and worked with during California fires aide. What are some of the most memorable moments you had while being surrounded by so much devastation? What inspired you and kept you pushing through?
A: Seeing the overwhelming good in people was incredibly inspiring, even in the face of such devastation. Donation centers were completely overrun with contributions. People were so willing to do the extraordinary – from the two young ladies with no connection to our event driving around the county looking for supplies to assist our effort, to one of our volunteer team leads making deliveries to displaced families, to organizations outside of the state reaching out to us to ship in supplies. Heroic stories left and right. What left the deepest marks, however, were the personal stories of people we truly care about – our many consignors and volunteers that were affected by the fires.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced while helping in the California area, and how did it affect your franchise? How did you approach those challenges and find solutions for them?
A: One of our challenges was reaching families with children affected by the fires. That may sound strange, but while many families went to evacuation centers, many others were off the grid so to speak. We tackled this in a similar fashion to organizing our twice-yearly sales. Matt and I are truly thankful for our years of experience as Just Between Friends franchise owners. The training and knowledge as consignment sale organizers enabled us to quickly attract volunteers, coordinate their efforts in an efficient way to be able to help as many families as possible in a crisis situation and to spread the word to families who needed immediate help.
Q: If someone asked you what your best piece of advice for taking action in your community, what would you tell them? Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: JBF serves families in our community. Our charity partner, Active 20-30, is a service organization focused on improving the quality of life for children in our community. It’s comprised of men and women between the ages of 20-39 that are looking to impact their local communities while fostering personal growth, friendships, networking skills and leadership development. We feel blessed to have such an “active” charity partner that stands so close to our goals in serving the community. We believe so firmly in this organization that we helped re-charter the local Petaluma #30 club a few years back. Active 20-30’s motto is “one never stands so tall as when kneeling to help a child.”
We are so incredibly lucky to have franchise owners like Jennifer and Matt, who take the time out for others. It was so important to us to be able to highlight their story, their experience, their generosity, and sacrifice, during a time when they could have been one of those people who suffered. Don’t forget to check out their JBF Sale Page and Facebook Page. We are grateful to be surrounded by people like the Kimmell’s and be able to share their story. Have any comments or questions? Leave your comments below!