Member Stories

Santa Rosa Nurse Heads Online to Rally Fundraiser for Fire Victims

Written by Anne Dreshfield

For one neighbor in Santa Rosa, the recent fires across several counties in the North Bay turned into an opportunity to tap into the power of compassionate communities.

Payton Walton is a registered nurse and works at two different hospitals in Santa Rosa: Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Sutter Regional Hospital. Sutter Regional was forced to evacuate during the fires, sending thousands of patients, doctors, nurses, and administrative staff to other local hospitals and evacuation sites. Santa Rosa Memorial stayed open throughout the emergency, taking in patients as needed.

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Payton’s volunteering efforts on Nextdoor.

Despite working double shifts to help victims during the fires, Payton felt compelled to help in any other way she could. The majority of her colleagues at both hospitals lived in the area, and hundreds of them lost their homes as they worked around the clock to save the lives of those who had been impacted. Recent reports estimate that 1 in 6 doctors in Santa Rosa lost everything in the fires.

In the time between her 12-hour shifts, Payton has dedicated herself to helping the families in the most personal way possible. She started a program matching families in need with families willing to donate to the fire relief efforts. Within days, Payton was connected to more than 240 families in need – and counting – through her network of nurses and doctors who knew those affected. So far, using Nextdoor and word of mouth, Payton has matched 300 volunteer families – over 1,200 people – with 78 families in need.

Payton is striving to match families of similar sizes and interests, accommodating for special requests along the way, such as LGBTQ families, single mothers, seniors, renters, and more. No donation is too small, and many families are striving to donate items that will bring a sense of normalcy back to the victims’ lives, such as their favorite sporting goods, books for book clubs, and toys for beloved pets.

Several families have unique stories and wish lists. Read on to learn more about some of the families Payton has successfully matched, below:

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Three of the guitars donated to rebuild Brian’s collection.

One ICU night nurse, Brian B., is known by friends and colleagues as the “Guitar Guy” for spending all of his free time outside of work playing locally. He collects guitars – and lost his entire collection in the blaze that destroyed his home. So far, Payton has replaced four of his guitars, with plans to replace all of them.

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Abi, Maddi, and Lilli pose for their annual back-to-school photo in front where their home used to be.

The Donovans are a family of five. They’re known for their willingness to give back to their community, and are often the first to be there when others are in need. The three girls had to leave behind several of their pets while evacuating, including several chicks and an iguana. Their mother, Bobbi, works at the Redwood Credit Union, which is driving donations for fire relief efforts, and their father, Sean, is on the board of their local soccer club.

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Monica and Sam with their dogs announcing that they’re expecting.

The Brinkerhoff family are fast becoming local celebrities. Monica and Sam were recently married and are expecting their first child. The fires struck when the two were on their honeymoon, and they returned home to find their recently renovated home completely destroyed – except their wedding rings. The two are described as “beautiful people, inside and out.”

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The DeMello family on their old porch.

The DeMello family is a young couple who are just starting their lives together. Gabi and Nick are both in their early 20’s and recently moved into Nick’s mother’s home to live with her. Sadly, weeks later, their home was destroyed in the fire. Gabi works as an aide at the local school in Santa Rosa.

Despite this incredible progress helping match families with generous donors, Payton still has a growing wait list of families in need. To sign up to be matched with a family in need of donations, click here.

If you’d prefer to support relief efforts through a monetary donation, click here.


Join your neighborhood on Nextdoor here.

Do you have a story about how you’ve used Nextdoor in your neighborhood? Let us know.

Header image courtesy of The Mercury News

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