Story Sydnie Kohara and Laura Zimmerman
Photos David Bolling
Let’s be honest. Given an unexpected, two-week break from school, the last place you’d expect to see teenagers flocking to is … school. But that is exactly where freshmen Paige Moore and Ruby Capriola headed early the morning of Monday, October 9, when their school was turned into an evacuation center. Paige recalls that no one knew exactly what to do yet so they just started helping.
“We’d ask people what they needed,” she says. “They were asking for things like water, tissue and phone chargers. We’d get that for them. We even went back to my house to get more chargers.”
And Ruby remembers the emotions that surrounded them.
“There were so many people distraught, crying, shaking, so nervous, talking really fast, and then some just had no expression, just frozen.”
The shelter at Sonoma Valley High was quickly filling up with evacuees, so the students, using the mobile messaging app Snapchat, put out the word to their friends. All hands on deck, and as Ruby recalls, there was plenty of work to do.
“We started out doing name tags at first, then we set up beds in the main gym, then we organized everything in the Pavilion, the baby food, the kids toys, the pet section, the toiletries, everything!”
Later that morning, Paige and a couple of other students were sent over to the Adele Harrison campus, just across the parking lot. Buses were arriving from the Sonoma Developmental Center.
“That was heart-wrenching,” she says. “We were asked to bring over some food, and then read with the residents. They were stressed out. I wouldn’t say scared, more just confused. A lot of people were asking what was going on. We did the best we could to comfort them.”
Monday was designated as ‘Decades Day’ during which the students would all dress up in garb from their favorite decade. But there was no school that Monday. Instead Ruby and others were wearing face masks, and helping younger kids get used to theirs.
“I remember having to wear the face masks and we started decorating our masks with the kids,” says Ruby. “It was just so much and I couldn’t process it. We were all surrounded by fires.”
The teens kept hearing about the magnitude of the fires, and checking on friends whose homes were in high-risk areas. Paige remembers being told by a teacher who was also volunteering to keep an eye on the elderly evacuees, many of whom were showing real signs of distress.
“After we sorted out all the food, I began to help with serving, and one woman was all alone, with her two cats and dog, but she didn’t even know if her family was safe. I kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry, it will be OK.’ You just didn’t know exactly what the right thing was to say.”
Both girls are now sophomores at the high school. They say the fires definitely brought everyone closer. But they also say that, one year later, it’s not really over yet. Ruby describes the feelings she still gets at school once in a while.
“It is weird, sometimes now I still get flashbacks and memories of going through the halls, and people were crying and sobbing and we were carrying all the blankets. I will never forget that.”
For Paige, it was a life-changing experience.
“I learned a lot. It was a good shelter. The fires brought
Sonoma together, and we learned that bad stuff can actually happen to us too, but we can get through it. We will all be well prepared if there is another one.”
The students who volunteered were incredibly dedicated, according to staff members. Sometimes they had to be reminded to get some rest. When her family evacuated town, Ruby urgently wanted to stay and keep helping. Paige summed it all up recently, while speaking about her experience at the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s annual Red & White Ball.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a Sonoma Valley Dragon.”