BARTLETT, Ill. — When two cousins in the Chicago area heard about the devastating wildfires in California, they knew what they should do: Gather whatever supplies they could and bring them to those in need.
It’s not the first time they’ve hit the road to help disaster victims either. Arek Zachara said he and his cousin Danny decided to get involved after Hurricane Harvey, asking for donations on social media. They ended up driving down in a convoy of seven trucks full of supplies.
“We were surprised how many people donated,” Arek said. “We had to ask friends to drive trucks down with us.”
Arek grew up on a small farm in Poland before moving to Chicago as a teen in 1991, so when he heard about the devastation in California, he knew farmers in the area would likely need support. Through a Facebook group called Cowboy 911, they connected with Wheeler Ranch and Feed in Biggs, CA. The ranch serves as a hub for recovery efforts, as well as a refuge for horses, sheep, goats and other animals displaced by the fires.
“Usually we get in contact with people from over there and ask them what do you need the most, and they tell us,” Arek Zachara said. “We went and bought some food and some people donated some dog food and we were on our way.”
After a full day of work with their contracting and roofing company, Arek and Danny hit the road with a flatbed full of hay and animal feed last Tuesday around 10 p.m. They’d hoped the trip of over 2,000 miles would be relatively smooth during the holiday week, and took turns driving so they could stay on the road.
By Thursday they were almost to California, but were forced to stop when heavy snow came into the area. A day later they strapped some chains onto their wheels and got back on the road, arriving at the ranch on Friday.
“They drove through sleet, snow and rain — their tarp was so shredded by the time they reached our ranch,” Kari Wheeler said.
Still, Wheeler said they seemed to be in good spirits as they unloaded their tall stacks of supplies. And they were in good company: people from Utah, Oregon, Idaho, and all over California made the trip to deliver supplies to Wheeler Ranch. No matter how far they came, she said most volunteered to come back if the need continues.
“There’s almost a call for them to just jump into their vehicles, to just help and do what they can,” Wheeler said. “It kind of renews your entire faith in humanity.”
Even though they got caught in bad weather—again—on their way back, Arek said they still plan on making more deliveries in the future.
“I think it’s a good thing to help people,” Arek Zachara said. “If there’s anywhere in the United States where people need help, we most definitely are going to do it again.”
While it will take years for the area to recover, Wheeler said anyone looking to support animals affected by the fires can support the North Valley Animal Disaster Group.