The confluence of catastrophes that have been circling the globe has landed in Northern California with disastrous fire losses in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties.

Commonweal has many friends, Cancer Help Program alumni, staff, and board members in the Fire Zone. The stories of those who have lost homes, been evacuated, or moved out themselves because they could not breathe or saw the wisdom of leaving are flowing toward us like an incoming tide. Commonweal is just south of the Fire Zone, so we have not been directly affected yet.

New School Coordinator and Commonweal Communications Manager Kyra Epstein is organizing our resources on Facebook and our website to gather stories, resources, and ideas of how all of us can help. The New School has been a clearinghouse and home for these kinds of stories for 10 years. Commonweal has been a place for exploring beauty and impermanence in the midst of grief, fear, and healing for 40 years. Like everyone here, we want to help. Here’s what we’re doing now.

From Our Directors

Commonweal’s diverse program directors offer tips, information and advice for those in the fire zones:

  • Which kind of mask to wear to protect against smoke and pollutants? Ted Schettler, MD, Science Director at the Collaborative on Health and the Environment offers this information on which kind of mask works best. Generally, paper masks are not effective at filtering out small particles and do nothing to prevent inhalation of hazardous vapors. What’s generally recommended for particulate filtration is an N95 filtering facepiece respirator. They do not filter vapors either but are effective against particulate inhalation, which will be the most widespread hazard away from the fires themselves. They are normally available in hardware stores but a story I saw in the news this morning said that many stores in the area are sold out. Respirators with canisters that capture vapors as well as particulates are also an option but more expensive and may not be necessary if not right next to the fire. If people are in a safe place but where there is smoke and they do not have a N95 respirator, staying indoors with windows largely closed will help reduce exposure to particulates.
  • Information on the health effects of wildfires and other air quality conditions, from Ted Schettler, MD, and Collaborative on Health and the Environment Director Karen Wang: read the Air Quality page on their website for background info on health effects of air quality; follow air quality on the EPA’s AirQualityNow website; and take a look at EPA’s crowd science app available for download called SmokeSense to evaluate health effects of wildfire smoke. Two health effects articles from Pubmed:
    2015. A systematic review of the physical health impacts from non-occupational exposure to wildfire smoke.
    2012. Health impacts of wildfires.

  • Nutritional recommendations recommended by Commonweal Healing Kitchen Institute Founder Rebecca Katz to help our bodies eliminate environmental toxins from smoke exposure, which can greatly deplete antioxidants—key to fighting free radicals and keeping our respiratory system strong. She recommends loading up on fruits and vegetables, especially those high in Vitamin C. Keeping well hydrated is also very important; a little fluid can go a long way in keeping the brain sharp, which is important during times of stress. Additional tips for boosting your immunity on the go: Citrus (eat oranges, or squeeze lemon juice in a bottle of water, or sip hot water and lemon); dark berries (or any fruits or vegetables deeply hued in the color spectrum); drink green, black or herbal teas with lemon juice; incorporate good health fats (olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds).

Commonweal Voices from the Fire

We feel called to share some of the North-Bay-Fire stories with and from our community as they evolve, hoping that they can be a source of strength, inspiration, and aid. You’ll find some of these stories by clicking here, on Michael’s blog, and on our Facebook pages. Share your story on our Facebook page, or email us with thoughts, reflections, or needs.

Collections and Volunteering

Needs are great with thousands of people and animals displaced. Needs for food, supplies, and volunteers are changing by the hour. Amber Faur, Commonweal’s Visual Thinking Strategies Development and Operations Director, is leading a volunteer effort in Sonoma County. She recommends checking the, a website where you can get assistance with goods and services you need, find out what supplies are needed by whom, and offer your volunteer services. This website is updated every few hours by a live crew who match needs with supplies and volunteers.

In terms of food, pre-prepared, non-perishable food is desperately needed by Redwood Empire Food Bank for distribution to shelters.

In general, the following supplies are always needed, and can be dropped off at Commonweal for distribution:

  • Pre-prepared, non-perishable food items
  • Adult diapers
  • Brand new underwear and socks
  • Toiletries (new)
  • Eye drops
  • Inhalers (albuterol, for distribution by medical staff at shelters)
  • N-95 breathing masks and all basic medical supplies
  • Gift cards (in small amounts)
  • Brand new bedding (in a package)
  • Animal food and leashes


We set up a NorCal Fire Fund donation page for Commonweal. We’ll give 100% of donations to fire victims and their communities, guided by the local knowledge of our board, staff, and friends. There are many good places to donate. We just want to offer a place for people who trust our approach to healing work.

Our hearts go out to all those affected by the fires.