By Brandon Hernández
While the wildfires raging throughout San Diego County are geographically removed from the La Jolla area, they have pulled at the heartstrings and tested the mettle of the community all the same, and its citizens will be proud to know that local businesses passed this test with flying colors by giving of themselves whole-heartedly to support victims of this natural disaster as well as those combating it.
Possibly the most extensive fire incident in California history, the Witch Creek, Harris, Poomacha, Rice and Horno fires have burned a total of 360,000 acres countywide, destroyed more than 2,300 homes and structures and displaced nearly half-a-million people to date. Included in that count was Terry Underwood, the general manager of NINE-TEN restaurant at La Jolla's Grande Colonial Hotel. His family was forced to evacuate from their Rancho Bernardo home on Monday.
In spite of this, it wasn't long before he was back in La Jolla, assisting in massive outreach efforts being executed at his workplace. The Grande Colonial housed more than 120 evacuees free of charge during the fires, going so far as to provide a full breakfast buffet each morning, an equally substantial dinner buffet each night and snacks throughout the day, all of which were on the house. The hotel waived its no-pets rule to accommodate evacuees with animals and pastry chef Amy O'Hara went the extra mile as well, bringing in games from her home for children of displaced families.
"Two of our family households were evacuated," reported Jeani Burwell, the proprietor of the Crab Catcher in La Jolla, who along with their neighbor, Trattoria Acqua, sent 150 meals and water to firefighters. That effort was mirrored by Fresh(er), who, in addition to transporting sandwiches to the fire lines, will be donating 10 percent of its total revenue through the end of October to the San Diego Red Cross.
Many restaurant owners not only directed activities, but also spearheaded their implementation. George Hauer of George's California Modern personally delivered hundreds of meals to the Red Cross Center in Kearny Mesa three nights in a row.
One of the finest cases of leading by example was Claudette Mannix of the La Jolla Brew House, who brought both her family and staff together for a myriad of humanitarian efforts. On Wednesday, she and Brew House employees took food to evacuees at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Later that day, she and her sons traveled to the Steele Canyon and Campo shelters to deliver food, bottled water, toiletries, cots, blankets, pet supplies, clothing, books and other items they had collected in the back room of their College Area home from neighbors and concerned citizens. Later, Mannix, her husband and staff members delivered even more essential items to shelters and rescue centers in Santee, El Cajon and Lakeside.
"Qualcomm (Stadium) seems to be getting the most assistance, so I am going to the smaller shelters and rescue centers," explained Mannix before hitting the road on her ambitious mission of mercy.
Once Lachlan Oliver, the owner of La Jolla's recently established Heaven Sent Desserts, and his staff heard about the fires, they brainstormed as to what they could do to help. "Heaven Sent Desserts was (founded) on the belief that desserts make you feel better." His staff worked for hours on end, baking batch after batch of cookies to deliver to Qualcomm Stadium. This is particularly noteworthy because, as Oliver noted, "As a new business, I can't afford to pay for overtime and (my employees) just stepped up with smiles on."