It has been just over 3 weeks since the most devastating fire in Colorado history.
It was immediately referred to as the Marshall Fire because of the name of the road right outside of Boulder where the flames first ignited and spread rapidly across over 6000 acres due to 110 mph winds that were whipping across the Front Range on December 30th, 2021.
It destroyed approximately 1000 homes and displaced close to 40,000 residents in a matter of hours.
It created horrific toxic smoke and fumes that will no doubt be lingering in our beautiful Rocky Mountain state for months, if not years.
It took away the calm that happens after all of the Christmas Day craziness right before ringing in the New Year and brought complete and utter chaos to my beloved community.
It will be one of those events in our lives that we will always remember exactly where we were when we got the emergency notification text to evacuate immediately. The last time I got a notification from the Boulder Office of Emergency Management was when the King Sooper shooting happened just a few miles away from where the fire started and that was only a little more than 9 months ago.
The time before that?
It was when Governor Polis declared a state of emergency on March 14, 2020 and shut down all of Colorado ski resorts because of the rapid number of COVID cases that were being reported in various ski towns at the very beginning of the fight against the virus. I was skiing down a mountain in Telluride at that moment and will never forget the expression on my son's face who was living there at the time for as long as I live as he suddenly realized how his mountain town life was about to be completely turned upside down.
So where was I when I got the notification about the Marshall fire?
On top of another mountain, this time in Glenwood Springs enjoying a tour of the Glenwood Caverns. After an insane December working practically 7 days a week I went to Glenwood to get a quick respite before kicking off what was forecasted to be an equally busy January. My travel companion and I even decided to take the train from Union Station in Denver so we could really relax and not worry about I-70 traffic or winter weather along the way.
Trust me when I say...I don't really do the whole relaxing thing very well. I mean, don't get me wrong, I can melt into a deep tissue massage or hot tub soak. But sitting on a train for six hours and thinking I am going to be able to sit still for very long?
Yeah, I have what my Yiddish-speaking relatives would say is "shpilkes" (pronounced SHPEEL-kuhs, SHPEEL-kiss, or SHPEEL-keys) a restlessness that really does work well for me as a professional organizer giving me endless energy to perform the tasks at hand. It just doesn't necessarily translate to those times when I have no choice but to be relatively still.
For the record, my travel companion quite possibly may have an even harder time than me, hence why I tend to only travel with people these days that can match or surpass my energy level and "shpilkes-ness". I will say, though, watching the world pass you by while feeling the gentle movement of the train gliding along the tracks was mesmerizing.
I honestly didn't have a care in the world for 6 hours and felt like I really was a million miles away from life once arriving in Glenwood and for the next 24 hours as well until...
First the OEM notification and then within a minute my phone started blowing up with text messages and phone calls. My close friends and family knew I was away but in the moment of panic everyone was feeling back in the Boulder area no one outside of the evacuation zone was focused on anything other than making sure everyone they knew was safe. I am blessed to be able to say that I have so many people in my life that are always looking out for me especially in an emergency situation and that day was no exception.
I don't think any of us understood the magnitude of what was going to happen over the next several hours but as the photos and videos started to appear online as I sat in a lodge on top of Iron Mountain sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow gently fall outside, I felt despair and hopelessness being so far away.
Or maybe I was feeling that way because the past two years have, for lack of a better word, sucked. Don't get me wrong, I have managed to make the best of the pandemic but couple all of that with everything else that has happened starting with protests, election cycles, and mass shootings, 2020 and 2021 will not go down as the best years in any of our lives.
Then again, would it have mattered if I was not so far away? In some respects, it was probably a blessing because I would have been scrambling like everyone else trying to figure out what belongings to grab (if I had been at my apartment which I probably would have been considering how windy it was that day and even just driving was truly hazardous) as well as where to go from there amidst all of the evacuation traffic and confusion.
By the time we got back to our hotel to change for dinner, I was admittedly emotionally drained wondering if my apartment complex would eventually be engulfed in flames as embers were continuing to be carried by the wind into the night across Superior and Louisville, the bedroom communities outside of Boulder affected by this fire.
Somehow I made it through dinner without completely falling apart but once we hunkered down for the night in our hotel room as Glenwood was being blanketed with another foot of snow I found myself, the person who can't sit through most movies, literally paralyzed watching everything unfold on live TV until after midnight when I finally decided I had to shut off the TV and, more importantly, my brain.
So what does any of this have to do with being a professional organizer?
I knew that when the sun rose in less than 7 hours I was going to need to put on my "Action Girl" cape and begin the process of figuring out what my life was going to look like over the next few days and weeks if not months...it really was a complete question mark. Snow had started to fall overnight around Boulder Valley and the fire was being contained so I knew my apartment hadn't suffered any fire damage. But the concerns surrounding even the smoke damage I anticipated upon my return and what that was going to mean for me being in a hard closure area with no heat, gas, water or internet for an unknown amount of time meant figuring out where I was going to stay for a week or two or possibly a lot longer.
It also meant getting hold of my renter's insurance agent ASAP to find out what if anything my policy would cover...
...trying to navigate being a renter of a condo and dealing with the property management company the owner of the unit has to handle everything...
...as well as the HOA for the apartment complex where I really have no say or authority since I am a renter but already assumed I was not going to be able to rely on the property management company for any assistance since they had been so difficult to deal with even before this disaster...
...and wondering when I would be able to get my car (which was sitting in my garage) if my insurance wouldn't cover getting a car rental.
First world problems?
But still some pretty big problems.
I promise I am not trying to compare what has amounted to minor smoke damage in my unit to the people that lost their entire home and all of the contents.
I just had never been through anything like this, not even after living through countless tropical storms and hurricanes throughout the years I spent in Florida.
I along with thousands of others was suddenly thrust into the world of disaster assistance.
And as a professional organizer, I pride myself on being on task and taking matters into my own hands.
An event of this magnitude, though, takes on a life of its own and I simply have no control over all of the crisis management processes and procedures.
That said, I couldn't help but begin to obsess over all of the information already being tossed around social media that morning from my hotel lobby in Glenwood Springs where I set up my version of a crisis management center...laptop, phone, chargers, water bottle, etc...and was anxious to get back home to begin whatever my recovery process was going to look like.
And then we found out our train was delayed 4 hours...and then another hour and I think two more delays until we finally departed the station about 7 hours late. Sitting still on the train back was not nearly as relaxing as the ride there, but I found myself staring out the window looking at complete darkness and was mesmerized...or maybe I was just in a trance and completely numb at that point. Suffice it to say, it felt like we were on that train for 7 days, not just 7 hours.
We arrive back at Union Station at 1 am and it suddenly dawned on me we had completely forgotten the fact that New Year's Eve had happened without any revelry on the train as I watched some rather drunk individuals staggering out of a party that had apparently been held inside the historic train station in Downtown Denver without a care in the world...well, until they woke up in the morning with a wicked hangover no doubt.
Meanwhile, some way to start a new year after the last two years we've had right?
Because I couldn't go back to my apartment I had no choice but to stay at a hotel for the night...or the very early morning hours as it really turned out...and then, thanks to my travel companion, I got to another friend's house in North Boulder later that morning after a rather dicey snowy/icey drive that unfortunately arrived a day late.
We really needed that moisture.
While the investigation as to what started the fire is still ongoing, one thing is for certain, if the ground had been saturated by rain or snow the fire would not have spread the way it did even with the unprecedented high winds.
It really was the perfect storm.
That first day back is somewhat of a blur at this point but I know I was glued to my computer screen trying to stay as up to date as possible about what the HOA vs. city vs. county vs. state were telling everyone to do. I was trying not to look at the photos and videos people were posting of their own homes and neighborhoods, some less than two blocks from my apartment complex.
But as the day went by it was apparent I was going to know a lot of people directly that lost everything and my heart and head began to ache and hasn't stopped. I knew I had to shift from my own minor victim status to helping those that really needed it and started to contact all of the incredible people in my Greater Boulder network to find out what I could do as well as connect with so many new people that had already jumped into action mode and were starting to organize donation centers, meal trains, GoFundMe pages, etc. for all of the fire victims.
I asked my social media/marketing/project management peeps that help me with so many of the "behind the scenes" aspects of running a business to stop all "self-promotion" and pivot to only offering resources and advice about how to navigate the fire aftermath. At the same time, I was starting to worry that if I was inserting myself into every conversation online as a professional organizer with tips about anything that seemed pertinent to my area of expertise it may still come across as "salesy" or dare I say, being like an ambulance chaser following the accident victims and taking advantage of them in the midst of a really crappy situation.
Truth be told, I felt that way right after the pandemic lockdown ended and everyone desperately wanted my services to get their homes and lives back in balance. It just seemed a bit disingenuous. But then a wise friend said to me, "There are always people that will stand to profit off of difficult times in our lives. But that isn't always the case. Isn't that the whole point of therapy? We seek help during our lowest moments, right? As long as you show up with integrity and grace you will be perceived as a trusted adviser, not a shyster."
She was right, of course.
I have great friends...seriously.
They keep me grounded and humble.
They also encourage me to be me and while some may think I can be a pain in the ass going about my days at 100 mph, I will always maintain that is how I get as much done as I do.
Flying into action is just whom I am at my core and I won't ever apologize for it unless I truly hurt someone. Just ask the person who is currently staying at my apartment after foot surgery and isn't allowed to be up unless going to the bathroom. I tell my clients all the time...I am compassionate yet ruthless regardless of the situation at hand. So professionally or personally, I will always be someone who wants to do whatever I can to help others.
It should come as no surprise that I wasn't afraid to send out an email to all of It's Just Stuff's past clients within the first few days after the fire to ask for any material and monetary donations they might be able to give to the fire victims even though EVERYBODY was asking the ask and continue to do so. As a result, I have received a few thousand dollars to date to help people like...
...a single mother staying in a hotel after losing everything just asking for diapers when clearly she needed so much more and I sent several other items I knew she could probably use
...a family wanting a small Christmas tree to finally be able to celebrate the holiday because everyone had COVID during i
...a teacher asking on behalf of several of the students at her school for new boxes of crayons and markers
In addition to any money I've received directly I know of thousands more than my contacts have donated to several non-profits with Marshall Fire fundraising drives. Would they have done that without receiving my email? Maybe, but it still feels good to know I have surrounded myself with people that care about others.
My goal was and will continue to be to help as many people as possible directly. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times in the past several weeks how overwhelming the support from not just the immediate community has been but from surrounding communities as well as around the US and even around the world. Millions of dollars flooded into the Community Foundation of Boulder County within a matter of days and will no doubt continue as the basic needs of so many people need to be met even those who lost multi-million dollar homes because this fire clearly was not discriminating rich vs. poor as is the case with a lot of disasters like this.
Donation centers were also flooded with material items to the point where they had to stop accepting anything. As someone who used those centers as a last resort when I couldn't match donations from clients directly with people in my community, you would think that wouldn't be a problem for me. But on the day of the fire and for those that were at home and had minutes, if that, to grab anything...
...or possibly at work or out and about and only had the clothes on their back and shoes on their feet...
...or, in so many cases, because it was still the holiday season, they were away on vacation in a much warmer climate with clothes that were not at all appropriate for returning to snow and freezing temperatures...
...none of these people should be expected to wrap their heads around anything except trying to remember to breathe and let the community help find them food, clothing and shelter.
I am admittedly struggling with the fact that the largest free donation center currently will only accept new items when there is such a glut of gently used clothing and household items available. Then again, I didn't lose the entire contents of my home so I don't know if I would feel the need to have everything new or not. I know I wouldn't want used bedding. And I am not sure if that makes me sound entitled but I am not even a fan of sleeping in hotels because I have a bit of a phobia about the number of bodies that have slept in those beds prior to me for so many reasons that I am sure I don't need to explain here.
Everything else? I buy clothes in thrift stores all the time and try to repurpose and recycle as much as possible. My needs are pretty minimal these days and I think it is fair to say I have never been a particularly materialistic person, however, I do understand the desire to have things that make me feel good.
So please know this...I am not criticizing those that are seeking only new items right now, I just want people to remember that the vast majority of the stuff in donation centers even under the best of circumstances end up in landfills or sold to third world countries for pennies on the pound, something I have mentioned in previous blogs as well as discuss with every client and it is still so distressing to think about the enormous waste problem we have in our society.
My solution at the moment? I have a form on the It's Just Stuff website that any fire victims can fill out in addition to anyone struggling in our community...and sadly there are a lot of people who are one day away from living in their car, in a shelter, or on the street because of their own set of circumstances. Domestic abuse, job loss, physical and/or mental limitations...there are sooooooooooooo many unfortunate reasons. They can let me and #TeamIJS know their immediate and direct needs and we will do everything in our power to get it. I am so grateful to so many clients that have stepped up and provided the most important commodity...money or gift cards that enable me to make purchases on behalf of those in need and deliver them to them either by mail or store pick up.
Scammers are out there, though, so I am needing to be hyper-vigilant about who gets anything. Vetting fire victims isn't hard...they simply need to provide a FEMA or American Red Cross application number. The rest who have been reaching out for help? I am trying my best to vet them but I am sure I will be taken advantage of along the way. It happens...no one is immune from that one person who is so convincing as they lie through their teeth...sigh.
Do you know what is also out there?
Really kind, compassionate people who happen to be standing behind you at Target when you are picking pillows for the Lending A Hand free store and you are inquiring about whether Target is offering discounts for donations to the fire victims. The customer service representative wasn't sure, but when she asked her manager over the walkie talkie and he said no without even hesitating...even for a second to consider the possibility...and you reply...
"Well, shame on Target especially since the store in Superior was saved thanks to the heroic efforts of so many firemen, some that may have even lost their own homes or are displaced. So I guess I shouldn't be asking my clients to purchase any more gift cards from Target for the victims and support stores that want to support our community?"
And right then I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned around and the woman behind me said,
"I've got this. I'm paying for the pillows."
Listen, I know this isn't the first disaster to ever occur in this country of this magnitude and I know that communities everywhere rise to the occasion and help one another. But in that moment, standing in the store, I thought that was the biggest gesture anyone could have possibly made.
So, I'm sticking with shame on Target and if they catch wind of this blog I would be happy to have a conversation with them about it. I realize they have a huge community giving program and donate to many local non-profits but it is a highly structured operation that requires going through a process and that takes time. The fire victims don't have the luxury of time right now and discounting a bunch of pillows on the spot even 10% should have been a no-brainer. I may have had no way of proving what I was really going to do with the pillows, but how many people walk into their store and load up two carts with just pillows for their own personal use? Or did they really think I was going to resell them for a profit?
Overall, though, I am so proud to be able to be part of this massive undertaking to help people feel less overwhelmed even if it is suggesting something as simple as a double hanging closet rod for a mother with two daughters who went from having separate rooms in a large house to sharing a bedroom in a significantly smaller rental. I was hoping to help them get settled in their new space, however, one of the daughters tested positive for COVID this past week so I did not get to actually organize this closet but still...
This and so many other conversations that I have been a part of over the past few weeks offering advice on creating and maintaining very different types of organizing and storage solutions for people who are staying with friends and family as well as still in hotels or lucky enough to find a rental that hasn't already been subject to price gouging have truly fed my soul. Don't even get me started about the price gouging and so many other things landlords and property management companies are or are not doing that they shouldn't or should be doing. It is sad and disheartening, to say the least.
My heart and headache every day and probably will for an indefinite period of time as my community begins the rebuilding process. But if this all isn't the ultimate example of my vibe attracting my tribe I don't know what is and I'm ready and willing to keep whatever good vibrations going that I can. So...PLEASE...if you or anyone you know needs help, click HERE to fill out the form mentioned above so I can keep being my definition of a pain in the ass. 😊
With regard to donations...money and gift cards are really what is needed most for groceries, toiletries, gas, etc. but if you aren't comfortable sending either to me I completely understand. There are plenty of non-profits that are set up to receive these types of donations including...
As far as material items are concerned, many people are too overwhelmed to go to the free stores for donations or they can't find what they need at the various locations so the list below includes some of the items currently in high demand by those that have already reached out to us with their specific needs at this time. It will no doubt continue to evolve as time goes by and more people get resettled but for now, if you have any of the items indicated in the list please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Linens (sheets, blankets, towels, pillows...ideally new or gently used)
Kitchen items especially dishes, silverware, small appliances
Painting supplies (oil paints and canvases)
On behalf of Team IJS and all of those who are facing a long recovery road ahead of them, thanks in advance for any support you might be able to provide.
One final thought....when I opened up a cabinet in my kitchen this morning to make some coffee for the "patient" recovering from foot surgery at my apartment, I couldn't help but pause at the words on both mugs.
I don't drink coffee anymore but realized the last time someone asked me for a hot beverage I didn't have any mugs at all. I mean I know I am trying to be a minimalist but even I know there is a need to have a few. So I happen to have seen these in a store sometime in December after a particularly rough day and thought they were exactly what I needed to be reminded of each and every day. And now I pass this wish on to all of the fire victims and the rest of the world at large because without the ability to breath and feel hopeful, I'm not sure any of us can claim we are truly living.
Here's to breathing and being hopeful always,