When College of the Canyons was made a temporary home for some of the thousands who were evacuated as the Tick Fire made its way through Santa Clarita last week, celebratory events were put on the back-burner.
Approximately 750 displaced residents went to the COC evacuation site, filling the gym, cafeteria and other buildings on campus, as well as every parking lot with campers, and many more sleeping in their cars.
“When you see that, you just say, ‘OK, let’s refocus here,’” COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook said. “We need to do the right thing for the right reason.”
Though the COC Foundation’s Chancellor’s Circle, which is made up of a group of community members who work to support innovative or underfunded projects and initiatives at COC, was set to have their annual Chancellor’s Circle Dinner and 50th-anniversary celebration on Saturday, they decided to postpone it.
Instead, they chose to repurpose the dinner to serve the families affected by the fires. Immediately, COC’s Institute of Culinary Education staff and students got to work changing up the menu for the event in order to feed more people.
“They got here early dawn, started working and prepping for today, changing the menu up, and just making the best of this situation,” said James Kneblik, director of development for the COC Foundation.
Though evacuation orders for many were lifted by 8 a.m. Saturday, officials continued with their plans for the dinner.
“I’m glad we did what we did,” Van Hook added. “For people to be able to go home is fabulous. I’m just thrilled that we have so many generous people in Santa Clarita who step out of themselves and do something to help others — that’s what makes this community and the college the way that it is. College of the Canyons could not have grown and thrived if we did not have people who cared about others and are willing to step up and contribute to making things happen.”
COC invited not only those impacted by the fires to the dinner, but also those who worked diligently to protect and serve, including first responders and volunteers.
“We had a good turnout,” COC spokesman Eric Harnish said, adding that some firefighters and Red Cross employees were able to attend. “It was a great opportunity, and we were happy to host an event where those affected by the fires could enjoy a meal prepared by our staff and students, while also thanking those who worked so hard to keep our community safe.”
“It’s always rewarding when you’re coming out to help the people,” added Jerome Thierry, a public information officer with the Red Cross, who attended the dinner. “You’re coming to serve, and that’s actually why we do this — we want to serve.”
While things are beginning to wind down from the Tick Fire, and evacuation centers have closed their doors, the Red Cross’ job isn’t done yet.
“The good news is that people are able to go back home,” Thierry said. “There were some homes that were lost, and we’re sad for that, but we’re also here to assist them in their recovery … we want to make sure everybody’s needs are met.”