LAKE FOREST, Calif. Three of the 18 fires that ravaged Southern California in recent days scorched portions of the valley where Saddleback Valley Community Church is located.
Saddleback's facilities escaped the rampaging flames. But the crisis lit a fire of urgency for Saddleback members as they mobilized for disaster relief efforts to provide food, housing, comfort and counseling.
"It's been a busy, busy week," Rick Warren, Saddleback's senior pastor, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" show Oct. 26. The church's 128-acre campus served as an evacuation center for refugees and as a "refreshment center for about 500 of the firefighters," Warren said. "We have been housing animals, pets, feeding people."
With more than 22,000 attendees, Saddleback also has about 3,500 small groups "in every city in Southern California," many of whom welcomed evacuees into their homes, Warren said.
Students of the church's college ministry, CRAVE, worked alongside firefighters on the fire lines, Warren recounted. On Saturday morning, more than 600 people from 120 small groups went into the hardest-hit areas of San Diego to pray, clean up and offer help.
"As the fires have raged this week, I've once again seen the undeniable importance and benefit of being a part of a small group," Warren said in an e-mail to church members.
Saddleback also has dispatched about 100 "volunteer chaplains" who are "counseling, caring, comforting, coaching, praying for people," Warren said. And the church is a "clearinghouse for donations, as we have been getting food and getting money out to those who -- who literally lost everything this week," he added.
On Oct. 25, Warren appeared on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program, when Colmes cited an article Warren wrote about dealing with grief in response to the 2003 California wildfires that approached Warren's backyard.
Warren noted that Saddleback's counselors seek to encourage fire victims in five ways:
• release the grief.
• receive help from others.
• refuse to be bitter.
• remember what's important.
• rely on God.
Warren said his sermon last weekend, titled "How do you look up when you're burned out?" dealt with aspects of the tragedy.
Ken Blanchard, author of the best-selling "One Minute Manager" whose San Diego-area home was consumed in the wildfires, joined Warren for two of Saddleback's four services Oct. 28.
Blanchard, who also appeared on Larry King Oct. 26, commented about his loss: "As a follower of Jesus, I just tried to quiet myself because I knew that He wanted me to have peace and joy and righteousness." He continued, "I am so proud of this country in crisis, but I also really want and hope and pray that when times are good, we can have compassion and love and serve each other."
Recovery fire efforts in LA, Orange and Riverside counties
• Saddleback Church is helping with clean-up efforts and resource distribution in the areas most affected by the fires. This is a great opportunity for your small group to make a difference! If you'd like to serve this way, send an email to email@example.com.
• Let our local firefighters, law enforcement officers, city management personnel, and other public safety workers know how much you appreciate them. Write a thank-you note and send it to your local fire station, sheriff's office, or city hall. Reach out to neighbors, family members, or friends who work in public safety with a gesture of your appreciation.
• OperationOC, a project of the Orange County Rescue Mission, is collecting food, clothing, gas cards and food vouchers for the 3,000 Orange County residents still under mandatory evacuation as of Oct. 29. The project was launched for victims of the Santiago Canyon fire. The assistance bridges a gap in services offered by the Red Croos, county of Orange and FEMA. To meet the needs, OperationOC has opened three Local Response Centers. Donations of cash and gifts are needed. Donations may be dropped off at the Orange County Rescue Mission between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, at One Hope Drive, Tustin, California, 92782. For more information, call (714) 247-4300 or visit visit operationoc.com.
• KKLA and Transparent Productions are working with OperationOC to help collect items for local fire victims. Those attending the Nov. 2 Steven Curtis Chapman concert in Linda Vista are being asked to bring a variety of items including cereal, diapers, baby wipes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, elastic bandages, antibiotic ointment, calling cards, gift cards, restaurant and department store cards. Those not attending the concert may still drop off items at Yorba Linda Friends Church from 6 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit operationoc.com.
• American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles Volunteers can call the Red Cross at (310) 445-2676 or (310) 477-5785
• The Salvation Army is deeply grateful to two Los Angeles professional sports franchises for their commitment to their community and vital assistance in the face of the recent wildfire disaster that has struck Southern California. The Los Angeles Kings hockey club has partnered with The Salvation Army to collect funds for fire victims during three home games (Oct 31, Nov. 3, and Nov 10) at the Staples Center. The LA Galaxy Soccer team along with The Herbalife Family Foundation is participating in a celebrity Soccer exhibition at The Home Depot Center on November 4. All proceeds from the event will be divided among local charities, The Salvation Army being one of them.
• There is now a great need for financial aid to support such efforts as rental assistance and temporary housing for fire victims. One of the most important ways anyone can help is to donate what you can. With your help, The Salvation Army will be able to assist the victims of these terrible fires now, and in the months to come. Salvation Army Southern California Division, which covers Los Angeles County, north to San Luis Obispo, south to Orange County, and east to San Bernardino County • (213) 896-9160 • www.salvationarmy-socal.org
• Salvation Army's divisional headquarters in San Diego, which covers San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties Volunteers can call (619) 231-6000 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Victim Compensation Claims Board will accept claims and give assistance to survivors of the fires. Please contact the Victim Compensation & Government Claims Board at 1-800-777-9229 and or locally file claims at the Harbor Justice Center, Laguna Niguel. Contact Supervisor Diane Chavez at 949-249-5037.