When the Camp Fire started in Butte County, Calif., Rachel Begbie and her husband, Paul, were recovering from a severe accident they’d had while on vacation a few weeks earlier, trying to mend from several broken bones and Paul’s jaw, which is also broken and wired shut.

Since the fire, which claimed 85 lives, and destroyed nearly 14,000 residences and about 5,000 other structures and businesses, the couple has been shuttling back and forth between Rachel’s sister’s home two hours away and a friend’s home in Chico in the car they evacuated in, which isn’t in great shape. Paul and Rachel now have to do everything together, juggling their physical recoveries and numerous doctor visits with going to the disaster centers to file for federal aid, to seek reimbursement from their insurance company and more.

On Tuesday, the Begbies got a gift that is already giving them a significant sense of independence: a used car (new to them, though), thanks to an initiative by Chabad of Chico, Calif.

“I can’t even put into words how much this meant to me,” said Rachel Begbie, just after registering the car in her name. “I didn’t even know this could happen. I don’t have a home; I have nowhere to put anything. The car has made such a huge difference and made me realize that it is something that people really, really need when a disaster happens.”

Chabad of Chico in Northern California is continuing its efforts to provide assistance to people who lost their homes in the deadly Camp Fire that decimated the town of Paradise and has gone on record as the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

Thanks to generous donors, Chana and Rabbi Mendy Zwiebel, co-directors of Chabad of Chico, launched a program to provide used cars that are in sound working condition to people with a demonstrated need for transportation. Says the rabbi: “It’s very hard to move forward when you don’t have a means of transportation.”

The car giveaway is one of a number of initiatives that Chabad of Chico has spearheaded in the wake of the fire that claimed 85 lives, and destroyed nearly 14,000 residences and about 5,000 other structures.
The car giveaway is one of a number of initiatives that Chabad of Chico has spearheaded in the wake of the fire that claimed 85 lives, and destroyed nearly 14,000 residences and about 5,000 other structures.

Initiatives to Help Fire Victims

The car giveaway is one of a number of initiatives Chabad of Chicos has spearheaded in the wake of the fire. To date, Chabad has distributed upwards of $15,000 in financial aid. And the Zwiebels, assisted by an army of volunteers, have cooked and delivered hundreds of homemade meals for people in need, and are currently running a holiday toy drive.

Chabad launched the car giveaway on Thanksgiving day, and in one week has received more than 500 requests for vehicles. Each story, says Zwiebel, “is really, really sad to read.”

Among the first to get one of the donated cars was a man whose grown son has brain cancer and needed a vehicle to take him to medical treatments. The hospital where his son was initially set to be treated was in Paradise; it burned down in the Camp Fire.

“I don’t know how many cars we’ll get, but each car received helps put someone back on their feet,” says Zwiebel. “With a car, they can go look for a job, look for a place to live, and if need be, even sleep in their car.” (A lack of available housing remains a serious issue in Butte County, where Chico and Paradise are located.)

Delvering aid to the needy in outdoor camps.
Delvering aid to the needy in outdoor camps.

Meanwhile, Rachel Begbie hopes to be able to help others one day the way her family, friends and Chabad have helped her.

“Everyone has been so great so giving, and it’s just this amazing thing. I don’t know what else I can say. It’s just changed how I think about everything,” she says. “I know that once I am in permanent place and get another car, I am going to fix this one up really nicely and re-donate it because I know what a huge thing this was for me, and if I can do this for someone else, I am going to.”

To donate a car or otherwise assist victims of the Camp Fire, go to the relief fund page here.

Home-baked goods and communal warmth have been a help to the many people who continue to stop by the Zwiebel home and Chabad center.
Home-baked goods and communal warmth have been a help to the many people who continue to stop by the Zwiebel home and Chabad center.
The fire has left thousands with no place to live and no employment, as so many local businesses are gone.
The fire has left thousands with no place to live and no employment, as so many local businesses are gone.