Each November, the Chico News & Review takes a little break from the news to carve out some space for giving thanks. As we head into the holidays, we offer our 2022 Local Heroes—three groups made up of people giving their time and money to support their neighbors in need—to lift your spirits as we ring in the season of cheer by shining a light on charity.
Driven to help
Franklin’s Tower Mission Relief
Frank Martinez knows the fear that comes with encroaching flames. He first experienced that particular horror—one shared by so many North State residents—in 2016, when fire forced him to evacuate from the east Oroville home he’d recently moved into. The next year was even worse, he said, when flames from the Wall Fire “came 20 feet from my front door.”
“They looked like they were 150 feet tall,” he said recently. “We could feel our skin burning and couldn’t breathe from the smoke. Cal Fire saved our house. I witnessed our neighbors’ houses above us getting wiped out.”
Martinez was inspired to help fire survivors after the first instance, donating his camping gear and other essentials to people who’d lost their homes. During the second event, with nowhere else to go, he ended up at Lakeside Market in Oroville. There, he saw people had donated hundreds of cases of water to anyone who needed it and was moved to start volunteering with the Oroville Hope Center, where he served food to other evacuees and people in need.
Soon after, Martinez decided to jump into fire relief with both feet. Being the drummer for Grateful Dead tribute band Franklin’s Tower gave him an in with a vast network of Northern California’s Deadheads, who he characterized as exceptionally “kind, generous and helpful people.” He collected donations of food, water, money and basic necessities, loaded up his Dodge Caravan and started distributing them where they were needed most—on the frontlines and in evacuation centers during every major North State conflagration since, including the 2018 Camp Fire. He dubbed this effort Franklin’s Tower Mission Relief (FTMF).
Close personal connections in Berry Creek motivated him to get especially involved in the recovery of those impacted by the North Complex (aka Bear) Fire. After that town and neighboring Feather Falls were mostly obliterated by the blaze in 2020, he partnered with three fire survivors to form Berry Creek United, a nonprofit dedicated to helping that and other fire-stricken communities recover.
Martinez said his partners in that effort—all of whom had lost their homes—have shifted their efforts to other personal and community relief efforts, so he’s filed paperwork to revert back to the original Franklin’s Tower Mission Relief moniker.
“We still have the same purpose: to help anyone, anywhere,” he said. “And I’ll never give up working on rebuilding Berry Creek; that’s one of my life’s missions.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and generally poor economy, Martinez said FTMF’s mission has expanded in recent years beyond fire relief, to provide food and needed supplies to the North State’s unhoused residents. Every week he picks up 350 pounds of food from the North State Food Bank to make deliveries to various efforts to feed this community. One of his regular beneficiaries is the Chico Community Fridge (CCF), located on Pine Street between East Sixth and Seventh streets.
“What Rebecca Lampke does is amazing—she’s an angel,” Martinez said of the CCF’s primary caretaker (who was featured in the 2021 Local Heroes issue).
Martinez has a newer Dodge Caravan now and continues to work tirelessly in his volunteer efforts in spite of his own disabilities—he suffers from COPD, diabetes, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I still wake up in a panic and look out the window to see if there’s flames coming down the hill toward my house,” he said.
“I’m in pain every day and sometimes, like after a big food giveaway, I’m so worn down I can’t do anything else for two or three days,” Martinez added. “But I think the adrenaline from doing this, and knowing that I’m helping people, keeps me going.”
For more information and to donate to Franklin’s Tower Mission Relief, visit at tinyurl.com/ftowermission.
Going the extra mile(s)
Cal State Gleaners
Richard Mosell had barely escaped the Camp Fire when he resumed serving his neighbors. For five years, he’d volunteered with the Paradise Gleaners, an organization that distributed donated food to seniors and others in need. (A college student in his 50s, Mosell was a beneficiary as well.) Days after the fire, he borrowed a pickup truck to bring bread and produce to refugees camped out in the Chico Walmart parking lot.
During one such delivery, he reunited with JoAnne Bond, the Gleaners’ president. She asked Mosell, “You want this?”—meaning, leadership of the group—“You want to do this?”
He replied, “Well, sure, I’ll do that. I was going to to something; it might as well be this.”
In four years since, Mosell and a core quartet have not only revived the half-century-old organization, they’ve also reinvented it. Paradise Gleaners is now Cal State Gleaners Disaster Response, based out of two warehouses at 125 Oro Dam Boulevard in Oroville, and transcends its original mandate.
The Gleaners still provides food for needy recipients: 600 a week who visit the facility. The group also warehouses and/or donates food for others—such as True North Housing Alliance, Berry Creek United and I AMS Garden in Concow—and supports students in need through the Butte County Office of Education and schools in the Oroville area.
“Well over 6,000 people are eating something that came from our warehouse every week,” Mosell said. “It’s really incredible.”
Meanwhile, per the addition to the name, Cal State Gleaners’ volunteers respond to disasters, notably wildfires. They’ve gone up and down Northern California to offer relief, on-site, to survivors of every wildfire since 2020. Since that fire season, the organization has provided more than $3 million in aid.
The Gleaners’ facility is officially open 16 hours a week—Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.—but Mosell is usually there a lot more. He organizes deliveries Mondays and Tuesdays; he stays late.
“It’s gotten so huge, I need a clone of me,” he said.
He also needs financial help. Mosell estimated he’s put $200,000 into Cal State Gleaners, which currently is running a $21,000 deficit pending its Camp Fire settlement. (Those inclined to support his cause can learn more at calstatedisasterresponse.org.)
Yet the Gleaners still distributes food for free rather than reinstituting a previous weekly charge—and donates to other nonprofits such as True North, which operates the Torres Community Shelter in Chico. The Oroville-based group is separate from, but occasionally works with, the smaller-scale Chico Gleaners.
Paul Wolfe, True North’s donations and volunteer coordinator, attributed 50,000 meals served to homeless Chicoans since January to a partnership with Cal State Gleaners and the Latter-day Saints Church. Supplies from the Gleaners go beyond food: True North regularly gets bedding, and Mosell said the Torres Shelter (and others countywide) can expect twin beds following a donation from the Adventist Church in Paradise.
“We don’t have a ton of resources,” Wolfe said. “The ability of those organizations to fill our gaps has been just a real blessing to the shelter.”
And when he’s at the warehouse and points to something True North needs, Gleaners volunteers don’t hesitate to get it—no matter how high the fork lift needs to rise.
“They’re just really helpful, and they’ll go the extra mile for anybody,” Wolfe added. “They are a local hero.”
Power of 100+ Women
Behind the local heroes named in this special issue each year, there’s usually a nonprofit organization that provides the framework of the good work being done, including the critical and difficult job of raising money to fund the effort.
Applying for grants and courting donors can be a long and often complex process. That is, unless the funder is Power of 100+ Women. The Chico “giving circle” has streamlined the process of getting money to nonprofits, operating under the motto: 100 women, one hour, $10,000.
“We’re just a bunch of volunteers who get together and donate money,” said Cindy Lares, a co-founder of Chico’s Power of 100+ Women and one of its core group of organizers. Since the first meeting, Feb. 7, 2018, this bunch of volunteers has donated a total of $332,100 to Chico nonprofits.
“It’s kind of staggering,” Lares added. “For the amount of time we spend, that kind of return is hard to beat.”
The Chico group is one of hundreds across the country connected to 100 Who Care, a loosely organized alliance of giving circles (100 Women Who Care, 100 Men Who Care, 100 Businesses Who Care, etc.) that streamline donating and maximize impact by combining resources.
The local group meets four times a year, often at Butte Creek Country Club, and members commit to donating $100 apiece at each meeting. After 30 minutes of social time, the schedule kicks off with five-minute presentations from three different Chico-based nonprofits, followed by a brief Q&A, then a member vote. (“You’re going to be in and out in an hour” is the promise, Lares said.) The winning nonprofit gets the funds right away—in the form of checks written directly to their organizations and submissions via online donation.
The minimum amount given out at each meeting is $10,000, but with the 100+ women reaching sometimes as high as 192, the prize can be much larger. On top of that, the Schulze Family Foundation—a charitable organization created by Best Buy founder Dick Schulze—matches 50 percent of the donation amounts (up to $5,000) of any group affiliated with 100 Who Care.
Chico Meals on Wheels—which delivers low-cost meals to seniors and adults with disabilities—is one of the local recipients. In February 2021, sheltering mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic created a huge demand throughout Butte County for the nonprofit’s service, said Eric Moxon, board president for Meals on Wheels.
“We were delivering 30,000 meals a year pre-COVID. Last year, we delivered 57,000 meals.”
To meet the increase, Moxon said the organization augmented a two-van fleet with unreliable pickup trucks. After his pre-recorded pitch (due to COVID restrictions) was chosen, Power of 100+ Women donated more than $16,000 dollars, which, when added to $5,000 from the Shulze foundation, gave Meals on Wheels enough to add a third van.
“This was huge. Our pickup trucks kept breaking down,” said Moxon. “It gave us the ability to have a dependable vehicle; it gave us the ability to have another route. It would have been very difficult to do without it.”
Other local nonprofits Power of 100+ Women has given to include Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT), Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, From the Ground Up Farm, Butte County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue, Ability First Sports and many others.
According to Lares, the catalyst for the Chico group was Allison Travis-Bee (who is no longer a member). “She did countless hours of research, visited other Power of 100 groups to observe their meetings, and brought the initial seven of us together to collectively launch the Chico group,” Lares said.
In addition to Lares, the current organization team includes Connie Adams, Vicki Hightower, Ami Snow, Amy Hornick, Andrea Stile and Nicole Hill.
Lares says that the only difficult part of their operation is getting enough nonprofits to reach out to them. Those interested can apply online at 100womenchico.com.