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Tribal Casinos Come Together to Support Victims of the Deadliest California Fire

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Gold Country Casino, Feather Falls, Rolling Hills Casino, San Pablo Lytton Casino and the Lytton Rancheria Tribe

Many of you will know the names of the folks quoted in the following article; they are our long-time friends and associates; you’ve met them at our conferences; they live and work just “over the hill” from Reno, in Northern California. They took the time to tell us about the devastation they’ve witnessed, the strength of their team members, and how their Tribal organizations are working hard to help their employees and communities.

The Camp Fire in Butte County, which started on November 8, has burned over 146,000 acres and destroyed more than 12,263 homes and businesses. Seventy-one people have died in the blaze, with 1,100 more still reported missing. As of Saturday, November 17 it is only 50% contained. It’s the deadliest fire in California’s history. It has completely destroyed the town of Paradise and surrounding towns – home to many team members and customers of these Tribal casinos.

Grant Townsend, Marketing Director, Gold Country Casino and Hotel, Oroville, CA

Grant Townsend was woken up by a call from one of his team members in the middle of the night who was fleeing his home when the fire broke out. That call sent Grant and his casino team in motion to alert other team members that were in the fire’s path.

Grant is relaying this story to me while in his truck today (Friday, November

15), wearing an N95 mask as the air is considered hazardous by the EPA from the continued smoke.

No stranger to emergencies, Gold Country Casino, is well-versed in emergency procedure, as several times during the last 18 months, their community has faced local disasters including the Oroville spillway/dam failure and evacuation in February of 2017 and devastating fires in July of 2018.

After the call, he contacted his Executive Team, who were on the phones alerting team members in the area of the fire. And you bet, they make it a priority to keep addresses and mobile phones updated. They also utilize a private Facebook group to communicate. This worked well until Verizon, and Comcast went down; luckily, they still have a land-line for team members to call and utilize.

Sixteen team members have lost their homes.

Gold Country Casino and Hotel helping out with 500 meals for evacuees in partnership with Oroville Rotary and Salvation Army

Since the time of the fire, Gold Country has been running full tilt to help their employees and community:

  • Making victims of the fire and first responders the priority, their hosts and ambassador teams asked guests of their 87-room hotel and 77-space RV park to give up their rooms.
  • They activated their employee emergency account to use for meals, or whatever they need.
  • Evacuees and emergency personnel are receiving free meals at the casino.
  • The prior weekend they provided 500 meals for a local church shelter.
  • This past weekend, they canceled a scheduled concert, and instead, held a free Thanksgiving buffet for victims, serving approximately 3,000 meals.
  • They have also been using this event space as a distribution center for evacuees to pick up donations, much of it brought in by tractor trailers from other areas that include supplies like water and food,  gift cards and other essential items.
  • Grant shared, “Tribal Council of the Tyme Maidu Berry Creek Rancheria have been very supportive at every turn advising Management to utilize every aspect and square inch of the property for community support and outreach.

The outpouring of support in the community has been unbelievable, it’s really pretty amazing. Although we are doing as much as we can, there is such a sense of  feeling of helplessness, wishing we could do more.”

Rhonda Turner, Director of Human Resources, Feather Falls Casino and Lodge, Oroville, CA

Just about five miles south of Gold Country Casino, lies another Tribal Casino that has focused all their efforts on their employees and community since the fire started.

According to Rhonda, seventeen team member homes are destroyed with several more team members evacuated and who do not know if their dwellings are still standing. For the few that still have a house, there will likely be no services available to them when they get back; the infrastructure’s gone; there’s currently no electricity, water or sewer. It’s a waiting game for information as the fire still burns.

After the Oroville dam evacuation, Rhonda and her team chose a mobile app called Beekeeper to create a two-way communication system between team members and management and between each other. They recognize that most of their 515 team members are out on the floor with guests and not behind a computer; the same goes when they are off work. In the case of this disaster, team members and management have been sharing resources and information that they’ve gathered including where there are resources in the community, free meals, clothing, etc.

Rhonda also is part of an extensive HR network comprised of a variety of organizations in Butte County; through this resource, she’s been able to share valuable information with her employees to what organizations are providing services throughout the county. Also, through that network, t-shirts are being sold to support the victims.

In conjunction with the Mooretown Rancheria of Maidu Indians, the team members of Feather Falls Casino and Tribal members have worked with the community by:

  • Offering team members complimentary shelter in the lodge and the RV Park as well as providing vouchers and comps for meals. Due to the amount of evacuees, many are staying in the parking lot with trailers, tents, and some sleeping in cars and have access to the casino’s showers and restroom facilities.
  • Serving over 451 meals in their buffet to community members and team members displaced by the fire.
  • Setting up a distribution center at the gymnasium at the Mooretown Rancheria, collecting and distributing donations including clothing and toiletries.
  • Providing evacuees with hot showers and towels at the Rancheria location.
  • Assisting with support for a mobile FEMA office in their parking lot; they expect thousands of victims to apply for disaster assistance registration.
  • Organizing a Thanksgiving meal for first responders and evacuees on Wednesday, November 21.
  • Connecting her team members with their team member assistance program to deal with the shock and impact from the disaster; it’s a resource where team members can call an 800 number and are connected with a counselor.

Rhonda shared, “It’s amazing, the outpouring of concern. The overwhelming positive attitude of our employees – even those who have lost their homes. The entire community has come together. Everyone has been pitching in and so understanding. It’s been heartbreaking; we have talked to so many team members, some still smelling of smoke from the fire, telling these unbelievable stories of how they escaped the fire.”

Feather Falls has created a special donation page through their bank – choose Feather Falls Casino. All donations are tax deductible.

Steve Neely, General Manager, Rolling Hills Casino, Corning, California and the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians

About forty miles Northwest of Paradise, lies Rolling Hills Casino, where employees and community members have also suffered from the Camp Fire.

“The devastation this fire has caused is without precedence, and desperate is not a strong enough word to describe the situation up here. The need is great and will be for some time. Obviously we are all doing what we can, but something like this is going to require a great deal of help and support from outside of our area just to get through the next few months,” Steve shared.

The Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, owner and operator of the Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, California, has launched a multi-tribal fundraising campaign to help victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County through the Tribe’s Paskenta Nomlaki Foundation.

The Foundation reached out to neighboring Tribes this week to join the fundraising effort to benefit victims of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. All funds collected will be distributed to The Salvation Army and American Red Cross. Additionally, the Tribe will match up to $100,000 on all cash donations.

“Our great North State has been recently ravaged by one of the worst wildfires in the history of California,” said Andrew “Dru” Alejandre, Tribal Chairman of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians. “With a record number of fatalities and hundreds more still missing, and thousands of people displaced from homes that they may never return to, it is time for the Tribes to take action to help our neighbors.”

Nonperishable donations can also be dropped off at designated entrances at Rolling Hills Casino and a complimentary buffet meal will be provided to any Paradise resident with proper ID, as well as first responders in the area. The buffet will remain open through the end of the month, including Thanksgiving Day. To donate to The Paskenta Nomlaki Foundation Camp Fire Fund visit https://www.gofundme.com/manage/paskenta-nomlaki-foundation.

San Pablo Lytton Casino, San Pablo California and the Lytton Rancheria Tribe

The Lytton Rancheria Tribe, owner and operator of the San Pablo Lytton Casino in California, will donate one million dollars to victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County through the Tri Counties Bank Camp Fire Fund 2018.

From their press release, “Our Tribe is devastated by the destruction and loss of life and property happening in Butte County,” said Lytton Tribal Chairperson Margie Mejia. “It is the Lytton Rancheria’s deepest hope that our donation will help to support the victims of this tragedy as they begin to recover and rebuild their lives. We are also hopeful that this donation will inspire other companies and individuals to contribute anything that they can to assist the Camp Fire Fund, as all donations will be used to directly aid the victims and their families.” Read the full press release here.

Christine Faria

Christine Faria