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St. Charles caregiver and family feed thousands affected by California wildfires over Thanksgiving

Author: Kayley Mendenhall, 12/4/2018 11:39:00 AM

The recent wildfire in Northern California deeply affected Thom Pastor, manager of Food Services in Prineville and Madras.

He lived in Paradise briefly before growing up in Chico, where most evacuees have been staying.

“I went to high school with the executive chef of the hospital in Paradise, which was evacuated,” Pastor said. “They lost everything except their lives. That made it feel very personal – like I had to go and do something.”

Thom, his wife and their 12-year-old daughter drove to Chico Wednesday night before Thanksgiving ready to serve others through an organization called World Central Kitchen. Not wanting to show up and be in the way, the Pastor family stayed in a friend’s home. They researched ways to help and decided that World Central Kitchen would be the best fit for their particular skillset.

“It’s nearly an all-volunteer organization. They go in and provide food to people who are displaced,” Pastor said. “These people are in the worst moments of their lives, they should at least have good food that is served to them with dignity and care.”

On Thanksgiving Day, Pastor said he made nearly 100 gallons of gravy at a facility set up at Chico State University led by celebrity chefs Jose Andres, Tyler Florence and Guy Fieri. They were prepared to serve 10,000 people from that kitchen, but only a few thousand arrived. The weather was rainy and windy and many were scared to leave their shelters because they had no way to secure their belongings. So the group of volunteers packed up the hot food and delivered it to those in need.

Over the remaining days, Pastor said he put in 50 hours of work mostly cooking up to 600 pounds of meat per day. His wife and daughter helped prepare and bag thousands of cold lunches for first responders and people displaced by the fires waiting in long lines for insurance information or to collect mail from the Post Office.

Because he’s had incident command training through St. Charles, Pastor said he could appreciate how well-organized the response was despite the surrounding chaos and destruction. He met people who had been evacuated and hadn’t yet been able to return to their homes. It was surreal talking to those who didn’t know what they would find or how to begin to comprehend the life-changing event.

“It was a really good learning experience for my daughter. All three of us, really. None of us had seen anything like this before,” Pastor said. “As my wife said, this was the coolest thing we’ve ever done as a family.”