‘A lot of love’

Photo courtesy of Ray Morgan Company

Ray Morgan Co.’s Chico branch, including several Camp Fire survivors, pose in their Fifth Sun Apparel Butte Strong shirts. Executive Vice President and owner Chris Scarff purchased about 200 for interested employees (all of the shirt proceeds go to relief efforts).

Though it had been only about a week since the Camp Fire incinerated her home, her family’s Paradise business and everything she owned, Diane Lewandowski found she couldn’t sit still. She helped her colleagues at her other job, at Ray Morgan Co. in Chico, organize donations at a drop-in center set up in one of the company’s warehouses.

The donations—clothes as well as miscellaneous toiletries and toys—poured in from the office technology and supply company’s employees across California, to help Lewandowski and 16 others who were displaced by the deadliest fire in state history.

“By the time it was over, I knew what everybody’s clothing sizes were,” Lewandowski said with a smile. “‘Hey, Jennifer, this will fit you! This will fit your daughter!’”

Ray Morgan focused its efforts on helping employees immediately, said Chris Scarff, executive vice president and owner, opening the building for anybody needing shelter. Shortly after, each survivor received a $1,000 Walmart gift card.

Considering about 100 people work out of the corporate office in Chico, the fire impacted a significant percentage of the staff, Scarff said, about 17 percent.

Ray Morgan was founded in 1956 and is headquartered in Chico, with about 480 employees throughout California and Nevada and 20 branches across the Western U.S. It provides office supplies and related services, IT assistance and document management software.

In addition to hosting clothing drives for the drop-in center, employees across the company’s branches provided long-term support to “adopted” families, and sent in items listed on gift registries.

Meanwhile, the company launched GoFundMe and Golden Valley Bank fundraisers. As of publication, it had raised about $620,000, including the $200,000 Ray Morgan has contributed. The company also plans to donate a portion of its December earnings.

Half of the money raised will be dedicated to the larger community relief effort. The other half is already being directed to the company’s employees via monthly stipends of several thousand dollars each. “They’re using that on whatever they need to do to rebuild their lives,” Scarff said.

For Laura and Andrew Rotton, who are married and both work for Ray Morgan, the money has helped them set up their new apartment in Chico. The same can be said for Lewandowski. Everything, from spatulas to towels, needed to be replaced. That adds up quickly.

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Ray Morgan employees Laura Rotton, left, and Diane Lewandowski have resettled in apartments in Chico with their families after the Camp Fire.

“It was just incredible. I feel like they took care of the needs we didn’t even know we needed,” Laura Rotton said. “It’s been just a huge blessing.”

On top of that, the amount of assistance has been stress-relieving, she added. The couple have been able to buy things that they want instead of “thinking about pinching pennies.” That’s what they did while saving up to buy their first home in Paradise two years ago. It’s now in ashes.

The company has helped in other ways as well, Rotton said, giving its employees flexibility in terms of time off to help them schedule appointments related to fire recovery and getting their lives back in order.

Scarff said Ray Morgan knows the recovery will not happen overnight, and he is confident the company will continue to rally behind those who need help. It also has been fortunate that so many of its employees have been able to resettle in the area—only four have left Butte County, and two of them were able to transfer to other Ray Morgan branches.

“We always use the term RMC family. And that’s the way we feel about our employees. They needed help and we wanted to help,” he said. “It was a horrific event, but it sure is incredible to watch so many people within our organization, along with friends within our industry, how much they’ve rallied to support those that needed help.”

Rotton told the CN&R she has been touched not only by how her employer has provided assistance but also by how her co-workers have stepped up. Her colleagues held a mini fundraiser for her, and one day surprised her with cash. A co-worker told Rotton, “We’re going shopping.”

“It’s meant so much. This was already our forever career place,” Rotton said, “and this just really showed the true spirit of the RMC family.”

Though it was initially difficult for Lewandowski to take in the overwhelming generosity after Nov. 8, that feeling shifted, becoming one of heartwarming acceptance.

Months out, everyone has continued to check in with survivors. They’ve formed a tight-knit group, Lewandowski said, trading advice on virtually everything related to the recovery effort, from debris removal to purchasing new cars.

Like Rotton, she has experienced countless instances of generosity. In those early weeks especially, “if somebody needed something, they’d bring it in.”

Even the little things that aren’t necessities mean a lot. One of Lewandowski’s co-workers started bringing her coffee every day. Several brought in homemade meals to share, like tamales and rice.

“It’s things like that, where we’re a big company, but we’re very family-oriented,” she said. “It’s a lot of love.”