North Bay Nurse's Plea for Help for Fire Victims Goes Viral, Thousands ‘Adopt' Families Who Lost Everything

Update: Payton Walton says more volunteers are needed to meet the demand from the number of "loss" families who have signed up. Those interested can sign up at:

Let it be known that, what one day might very well be a key part of the relief effort in any natural disaster anywhere, began as a blizzard of papers on Payton Walton's living room floor.

"When my husband came in, he saw the entire place filled with paper," Walton said.

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Now, the reason Walton's Mill Valley condo looked like that was because the homes of many of her friends and coworkers looked so much worse: they had been destroyed in the firestorm that swept through the North Bay in October.

Walton has been a nurse in Santa Rosa for more than 25 years. When that city started to burn, she went to work. Walton drove north and reported for duty at Memorial Hospital. She spent 40 hours over the next four days caring for patients at the only hospital in Santa Rosa that wasn't evacuated due to the fires.

Anyone would say that Walton had done enough to help. Anyone, that is, except Walton.

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"I did my part and it was hard," Walton said, but "I had a home to come home to. I had a good nights sleep in my bed and I kept thinking about my own colleagues, my own nursing friends. They were doing what I was doing and then they slept in a Red Cross shelter at the fairgrounds."

Walton decided she needed to help them, so she posted to her neighbors on Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network. If there was a family out there who needed help, Walton wrote, she could introduce them to a family that desperately needed some.

"And within five minutes I started to get responses," Walton said. "Within the first hour, I had 50 families from Marin who said, 'Absolutely, who can we help? Tell us how.'"

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Walton began matching those who needed help with those who were willing on those papers scattered about her home, but the volume of the responses soon overwhelmed that system. She started keeping track on a spreadsheet and ultimately created a webpage to help streamline the process.

A project which was at first intended to help a handful of doctors and nurses that Walton knew had grown well beyond that.

"My guesstimate is now I'm up to 5,000 individual volunteers and we have helped almost 600 individual people."

Volunteers like Tricia Kerriker helping families like the Brannons. Cody Brannon, a contractor, lost all his tools when their home burned down so Tricia, along with her husband, is helping Brannon replace them.

"It means a lot," Brannon said. "This is what I use to provide for my family."

Walton says both sides in these connections say what makes this relief effort special, and different from all the others is that it's not just about the money or the things. It's about the person who comes attached to them.

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