On Nov. 16, a group of community members led by Ryan and Emily Capretta, who own Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, including Clare Whitney ‘19, planned a community Thanksgiving dinner for those who had lost their homes in the Woolsey fire. Whitney’s family was approached by the Caprettas and began to help plan this event.
“[The Caprettas] came to us and asked us to help donate our time and some of our food, because my mom is a chef, to help feed some of these people that have lost everything – their homes, their clothing, their memories and these places that they’ve lived all their lives,” said Whitney. “We wanted to do something more than just this, so I went to a ton of my friends and asked for as much help as we could physically give, so we had volunteers come in, we helped give away clothing, we made food for them.”
After only a week of planning, the organizers set up a Thanksgiving dinner for 500 people, created a “department store” for attendees to collect clothes and other items they need and had the street connecting the two venues of the event closed for the day. Stonefire Grill helped cook food for the attendees, and the community donated more than $75,000 to help the victims of the fire buy new clothes and goods. Dozens of local business donated items and time to the event.
“Our main goal was to serve and help as many people affected by the Borderline tragedy [and] those who had lost their homes and celebrating our first responders,” said Emily Capretta. “We wanted to provide monetary support, brand new items needed, a warm meal, love from the community and really a safe place. If we could take away their pain for just a little, then we did our job. It’s basic humanity to be there for those who have lost and this community wanted to show that.”
The dinner was accompanied by a moment of silence for those lost in the Borderline shooting as well as a gratitude board that attendees could write on.
“People were so grateful that just a community could come together to help the others who were in need,” said Whitney. “In the end, some of the stories that we heard from these people who lost most everything [were] not only heartbreaking, but empowering because, for me, it taught me that every single moment that you have on this earth, whether it’s with your family, in your house, going on a road trip or whatever you’re going to do, whatever you do is special and something that you should appreciate every second of.”
Several students from WHS, including Kayla Jou ‘19, volunteered at the event. Many thought it was an impactful way to help the community during a confusing and emotional time.
“This was a really easy way for me to involve myself and kind of have that Thanksgiving spirit and holiday and give it to people while still being able to volunteer as much as I could,” said Jou, who worked at a station handing out food. “It was really cool because you could see some people’s eyes light up when they saw certain foods because I don’t think they were expecting a Thanksgiving dinner this year, depending on their circumstances … I was just in awe at what they had to go through as well as just, they were being so strong, and it was shocking because I don’t think I would be able to handle it.”
The Thanksgiving dinner served as a valuable place for community members, both those who had lost items in the fire and those who wanted to provide help and support, a place to congregate together in the face of hardship.
Whitney said, “When tragedy strikes a community, it knocks down any borders of social awkwardness or strange conversations that you might have because everybody is level on the same playing field, so any kind of silence or miscommunication is wiped away and you can have full, loving conversations with a person and not have to worry about anything else.”
Photos courtesy of Clare Whitney