With two deadly wildfires still burning large swaths of homes and businesses in Northern and Southern California--and displacing an estimated 300,000 residents--it's hard to go on with business as usual. 

"Any business here in L.A. is impacted to some degree," says Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of SnackNation, a Culver City, California-based company that delivers curated boxes of healthy snacks to businesses. At least five of his 170 employees have been forced to evacuate their homes. The company is coordinating product donations to firefighters. "It's not just the community members, it's also the firefighters and the people who are really responsible of containing the flames, who we could argue are in need of more help and support than anything." 

SnackNation is also carrying out an employee donation campaign to collect supplies--water and masks--for those who need them. It organized a company-wide volunteer drive too, with its staff spending two half days this week helping out at Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization based in Chicago. "Obviously we want to make sure that the efforts that we put forth are welcomed and are needed," Kelly adds.

Kelly is just one of many California business owners who are pitching in during this incredibly difficult time in the state's history. Besides the death toll, which now counts 66, and the estimated 239,000 acres of scorched earth, towns as far away as 100 miles from burn zones have seen power and internet outages, as well as air quality alerts. 

Governor Jerry Brown has said California is "pretty well maxed out" fighting to contain the fires. Among those providing help is Airbnb, which deployed its Open Homes program to offer free housing to evacuees and first responders in California until November 29. Other tech companies including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are donating money to relief organizations, like the American Red Cross.    

To be sure, business owners are still largely grappling with the horror of this moment; some have even lost homes in the blazes. It has become personal for many--even for those who are still as yet, untouched by the fires. 

That's true for Lawrence Nolan, founder and CEO of Hardcore Fitness, a chain of gyms with 18 locations across the U.S, half of them in Southern California. He says it's important for business owners to pay it forward and "utilize this time to build community." Every year his customers donate money and time to put together Thanksgiving boxes to support single mothers. This year, he has enlisted the help of former firefighters to compile a list of items generally required in these emergencies, things like deodorants and sanitary pads, for example. He's sharing that list with his clients.

"They're going to put together these care packages and bring them to the gym," Nolan says. "And we'll distribute them to the fire stations."

Similarly wanting to help is Hope Horner. The co-founder of Lemonlight, a video startup based in Marina del Rey, California, is organizing a blood drive, and donating products on hand, like leftover beef jerky from a shoot. "For us it's really just trying to figure out how we can give back," says Horner.

She adds that times of crisis present an opportunity for businesses to help each other and their communities. "I do get it, as much as anyone else," she adds. "At the end of the day I do have a business to run, but I think humanity and people come first. I think this is an opportunity for businesses to keep that in mind and to show up as fellow humans and not business owners."

Published on: Nov 16, 2018