Oak students’ fundraiser for fire victims exceeds expectations

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Chase Nakayama, right, packs up toys, to donate to Northern California fire victims. Chase and a group of friends at Oak Avenue School delivered more than 1,000 gifts to the Healdsburg Free Store, which provides supplies to fire victims at no cost.

When Oak Avenue School student Chase Nakayama heard about the Kincade Fire, which burned more than 75,000 acres after igniting Oct. 23 in Sonoma County, he knew he wanted to do something to help.

With the holidays approaching, Chase decided to collect gifts to bring to families who were impacted by the Kincade Fire, as well as other wildfires that have ravaged parts of Northern California in recent years.

“I want to spread holiday joy (to) the people who lost their homes,” Chase said.

The fifth-grader gathered a group of friends and set out to host a fundraiser, with the goal of delivering 500 gifts to fire victims. In the end, the students exceeded their target by more than double, dropping off in excess of 1,000 gifts Dec. 14 at the Healdsburg Free Store, which provides supplies to fire victims at no cost.

The students collected new toys, as well as cash donations, and used the money to buy more gifts. In the end, they brought 1,042 holiday gifts up to Healdsburg. When they arrived at the store, they found a long line of people wrapping around the building, waiting for the chance to get a holiday gift.

“We were just really devastated to see all these people in line,” Chase said.

It turned out that some of them had been waiting since 4 a.m. So many people showed up that the store stayed open late to accommodate the crowd.

“It was sad to see there were tons of people who lost a lot of their belongings from the fires,” said Mikito Tsuruoka, one of the other student organizers.

When the kids received gifts, some of them jumped up and down in excitement, said Austin Bea, another Oak student. Austin said it was inspiring to see how happy the children were to receive a toy.

For him, the most surprising part of the entire experience was just how successful the fundraiser was. He credited the gift drive’s success to students’ confidence and belief in their mission.

In addition to placing bins for gifts and money in each classroom at Oak, the students also went beyond the school. They approached various merchants around town and asked to place boxes for people to drop off donations. Chase’s mom, Teresa Long, also helped set up a GoFundMe page that raised $2,000.

“At first, I believed in it, but I didn’t know that we’d get that much money, or that many gifts,” Austin said.

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