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Turlock businesses help feed fire evacuees
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Salvation Army volunteers delivered meals from Turlock businesses to Mariposa County fire evacuees in their hotel rooms (Photo contributed).

While smokey air and raining ash are the only ramifications of statewide fires suffered in Turlock over the past week, local business owners have taken it upon themselves to help the Salvation Army feed evacuees.

As the MOC Fire burns in Tuolumne County, evacuees settled into Mariposa hotels in recent days and anxiously awaited news on their homes. They didn’t have to worry about where their next meal would come from, however, as Turlock/Modesto Salvation Army Volunteer Coordinator Megan Patterson took to social media in search of businesses that were willing to donate food.

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Volunteers dish up food from Vito’s Ristorante & Pizzeria for those fleeing fires (Photo contributed).

After posting a plea on the popular Facebook page Turlock To Go, the donations began pouring in. Restaurants and businesses that have helped so far include: Vito’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, Olde Tyme Pastries, MOD Pizza, Chong’s Cuisine, Willie’s Pizza and Wings, Village Fresh Market, Savor Charcuterie, Crumbl Cookies and Kraving Kebab Pizza. Local church group Hilmar Helping Hands has also contributed, as have local residents Chelsi Knowles of Cost Plus World Market, Lori Crivelli and Lana Casey.

Patterson and her husband have been driving to Mariposa and back to Turlock twice a day in order to feed the evacuated families, who are extremely grateful for the donations. She said it’s quite a bit more work this year than it was to help out during the 2018 Camp Fire, as evacuees are spread out in hotel rooms due to the coronavirus pandemic rather than sheltering in one, large space.

Prior to helping evacuees in Mariposa, meals were shared with those who evacuated to Turlock due to the fire in Del Puerto Canyon.

“We started out feeding about 80 people, and now we’re down to 65,” Patterson said. “I just put it on Turlock To Go, which I think is a wonderful site, and people started responding.”

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The Chong’s Cuisine crew proudly poses with food donated to feed fire evacuees in Mariposa County (Photo contributed).

Olde Tyme Pastries owner Terri Coonce said when she saw Patterson’s post asking for help, she knew her business had to pitch in. The Turlock To Go page has been a godsend for her bakery since the coronavirus pandemic began, she said, and it seemed like a perfect way to give back.

“We help out a lot throughout the year, but especially now it is so important. We are one of the fortunate ones who are still in business and haven’t had to lay off anyone,” Coonce said, adding that many other friends and colleagues of hers have had to close their businesses for good. “I knew when I saw the post that she wouldn’t have any trouble finding help here in Turlock. We have a great community and when push comes to shove, we all rally together.”

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Amy Navarra of Savor Charcuterie smiles with Salvation Army Turlock/Modesto Volunteer Coordinator Megan Patterson after donating handmade charcuterie boxes to help feed Mariposa County evacuees (Photo contributed).

All mandatory evacuation orders for the MOC Fire were lifted in Mariposa County on Tuesday, so many evacuees were able to return home. According to Patterson, the Salvation Army remains well-supplied for the next fire, if necessary, thanks to the generosity of the Turlock community.

“The evacuees were so thankful to everybody. Every time we come to the door, they are just so delighted to have the assistance and they really appreciated everyone’s generosity,” Patterson said. “It’s a very giving community in Turlock. Everybody wants to give because everybody cares.”