2017 has been rough on California. In October alone, over 250 wildfires devastated the state, and while November was relatively calm, the fires came back in full force in December, destroying over 258,000 acres. Many people have lost their homes and all of their personal possessions.
This includes children—who in addition to losing necessities like beds and clothing, have also lost all of their toys. Many of these children have been relocated to shelters, and while they’re grateful for a place to stay, there really isn’t much for them to do there. Looking to help these kids, Eric Valenzuela made a sensible donation to the Santa Paula Community Center.
Valenzuela brought in his own computer, Playstation, and board games so that evacuated families would have something to play with. He set up a game room and posted a photo of it to Reddit where it quickly gained attention. People have started making donations to the community center—and as they did, word spread even further. In just six days, Valenzuela’s post has managed to accrue over 30,000 upvotes.
Yet Valenzuela wasn’t just doing this for upvotes. He wanted to help the children have fun and take their minds off their tough situation.
“They all have their own tablets and game consoles that their parents paid money for. But that was all lost in the fire,” he explained in an interview with Fatherly. “Often, these kids don’t have any places to go. If they had an area where they could hang out together and play games, it would make the situation much better for them, and they won’t be thinking about the fire.”
So far, it’s worked out great! Not only are the kids enthralled, but adults are too.
“Even people who just come to drop stuff off, they want to see the game station,” Valenzuela said. “They watch the kids play Sonic and Rock Band. These are adults. People actually joined in to play some games before they left.”
Valenzuela’s day job is pretty far removed from the fire, charitable work, or gaming: he’s a factory worker. However, he volunteers at the community center on the weekends, and he’s working on a charity arcade for The Red Cross.
“There’s going to be an arcade for whatever surplus computers and game consoles we have,” he explained. “People pay whatever they want, and the kids can play for a while, and the proceeds will go to Red Cross and other affected communities around the county. People come by to help rebuild.”
The comments on Reddit have been largely supportive of Valenzuela.
Valenzuela was shocked by the support he’s received.
“I’ve been making [Reddit] posts a couple times this week about the fire, and everybody ignored it. This time, I just posted about how I was helping because there were no posts about the fire at all on the front page … now everybody in the world wants to help.”
Santa Paula isn’t the only community center in the area, and it’s not uncommon for kids to get transferred from one shelter to another. So the donations that come in will be sent to other shelters as needed.
If you have games you’d like to donate, send them to 530 West Main Street, Santa Paula, California, 93060.