From the Ashes: TPP Changemaker Jenny Lowrey Battles COVID-19 in Her California Community, Ravaged by Fire Just One Year Earlier

by | Apr 27, 2020 | Changemaker Of The Week

It was 6:37 a.m. on Thursday, November 8th in 2018 in Chico, CA, when power lines that had caused concern within the community for years were scheduled for a two-day outage by a power company. Instead of an outage, however, what resulted was the ignition of a fire that sent a power surge across town to Concow to a second ignition point, causing a raging fire.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” says Jenny Lowrey, a Chico resident and the Executive Director of From the Ground Up Farms, Inc., an organization that supports the creation of community gardens and provides life skills education workshops. “[The fire] burned at a rate of three football fields per second, and my family and friends were trapped, praying for a way out.”

Lowrey, who has been a member of the TPP family of changemakers since 2013 when she applied for a grant to support From the Ground Up Farms’ community gardens (all of which were wiped out in the fire), has been assisting her broken community with direct fire recovery and direct aid since the fire.

But then, once again, the unthinkable happened—a pandemic swept through the nation, with California being one of the hardest hit states. All of a sudden, Lowrey was thrust again into emergency mode.

“[Our family, friends, and neighbors] have survived the nightmare of the fire and had just gotten back to work. They were finally feeling hopeful again … and then COVID-19 happened. We are now hit with a second disaster before we have recovered from the first.”

Lowrey acknowledges that Butte Country, which encompasses Chico and Concow, is probably the only county in this unique situation. As she states, “There were other fires, but they are way ahead of Butte County in recovery, just due to the huge size of our fire.”

This fact has only augmented the need for aid in Butte County. “These very families are now the most at risk for COVID-19 as they continue to live in horrible conditions since the fire. If COVID-19 gets to these families, it will be out of control, and we will lose many.”

In response, Lowrey applied for a new grant from TPP, this one supported by TPP’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund. She identified the biggest needs within her community: pickups and deliveries for immunocompromised and disabled folks who are being forced to shelter-in-place, many of whom have no proper plumbing nor means to practice proper hygiene due to the ravages of the fire.

“We want these unhealthy ‘at-risk’ folks to stay home, and we have a group of volunteers who are healthy and willing to pick up their orders for them and deliver to their front porches.”

Lowrey is quick to note, however, that these volunteers—most of whom lost their jobs due to either the fire or COVID-19—are hurting as well. “They could use some help to pay for their gas and to purchase sanitizing products,” she says.

The TPP grant will cover funding for masks and gloves to be used by the volunteers as they make deliveries, and Lowrey is also putting together supply bags for those who are unable to get supplies for themselves.

The road ahead for Lowrey, though, is still irrefutably long and hard. “Please understand, we are still in fire recovery mode, not rebuilding. We haven’t even found housing for these families since the fire. The best for most is overcrowded, multi-family apartments and leaky RVs, but many are still in cars and tents. [The residents] are right back where they were after the fire, begging for food and basic supplies. I’ve never experienced group PTSD like this.”

Despite–or perhaps because of–these hardships, Lowrey remains hopeful and grateful: “I would like to express how grateful we are! This $1,000 will go a long way toward meeting these basic COVID-19 needs in my community. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Written by Carolyn Ashworth