With Christmas Day upon us, the giving spirit is in full effect, and the sense of community in Ventura County has gone through a transformation. Known as a bedroom community, thousands had lived routine lives: work, home, entertainment, social gatherings, some volunteer work here and there. Our community, for the most part, was defined by the organizations we work for and the ties to them, plus whatever our personal endeavors linked us to. But this year, for the first time maybe ever, many people have gotten out of their personal comfort zones to step up to help those in need. Even those who have lost much have also been in a particularly giving spirit.

At a recent trip to Costco, an older couple who had lived in Clearpoint in Ventura for 45 years and lost their home were gingerly shopping for gift baskets. In Downtown Ventura at the Channel Islands Masonic Lodge No. 214, numerous volunteers put together the Ventura Strong Pop Up, with members of the 805 Strong Network supporting the effort. The sheer volume of donated clothes, food and other essentials is a wonderful display of generosity. Other locals put together the online resource center www.thomasfirehelp.com to help those in need. At the Poinsettia Pavilion, a dozen-plus state and local agencies came together to provide assistance and quick access to critical documents necessary for those who lost their homes and those without shelter. Even the volunteers at the pavilion were going out of their way to see how else they could help visitors. In Ojai, a large group quickly formed Upper Ojai Relief to provide clothing and food to those who had none. The American Red Cross was especially fast acting, giving evacuees a place to rest and be fed. At the fairgrounds evacuation center, barbers based in Camarillo donated their services and expertise to those who had been forced to leave their homes. A plus: there were no questions asked for anyone looking for shelter, meaning those with property and homes and those without such accommodations were treated the same. The rapid response is surely appreciated by those stunned by loss or the prospect of it, but the overall impact of this great coming together is not overlooked. In fact, there are great lessons to be learned from this experience.

The healing process following the Thomas Fire is barely in its infancy. From those simply scared by the fire to those who lost everything in it, many are in for a long haul of getting over trauma and rebuilding their homes, and some things will never be the same here. But that may be a good thing. Given what we have been through and what we have done together to show how much we care, perhaps the future is full of promise. Generosity and compassion have been extended to new realms. As we give whatever holiday gifts we have, or simply just receive them, too, or maybe some go without either, let’s not forget what we are made of and that when it comes to those in need, we need to see that extending kindness can go beyond times of emergency.