California -- The firefighters at San Bernadino, Ca., were honored with an early Thanksgiving dinner at the Northpark Community Church, Nov. 13. More than 70 congregants offered up their service to help prepare the feast for the local firefighters who braved two weeks of scorching brush fires across Southern California.
"It really warmed our hearts," said fire captain Doug Miles who is stationed in Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. "Often people don't invite us to dinner. A lot of times we are the ones holding fundraisers but we're not usually the focus and reason for being there."
"They made us feel appreciated," said Gui Planagan, a firefighter for 16 years and an engineer for station 72 in Fontana, Calif. "It was more emotional than I thought it was going to be. It really touched me more than I thought."
Those who serviced the dinner came from churches across the county.
"I live in the mountains and my home was at risk. I had to evacuate. They [the firefighters] did the best they could and it brings us joy to do something small like this for them,” said Lorraine Stoneking, who cooked three turkeys for the event.
Northpark’s pastor, Sal Martinez, used the $500 check he received from an anonymous donor, to help pay for the dinner.
Following the traditional dinner, the attendants prayed together, and for the firefighters. Martinez then printed out a prayer for each firefighter to take home, while the church members stood up to express their thanks.
"We will frame the prayer and put it on the fire station wall," said Miles, 37. "[W]e chatted together like we were at an old family gathering. We needed to be there."
Near the church, located in Del Rosa, more than 250 homes were burned by the region’s worst brush fire in ten years.
Martinez and other church members helped to fill sand bags earlier that day to prevent erosion of burned homes during recent rains, and they're intent to remain involved in the cleanup process.
Just a block away from Martinez's house, hundreds of homes were destroyed.
"I'm not sure why our house was saved; it was the grace of God," said Martinez, who gave away donated Starbucks coffee and donuts to residents without electricity each morning for two weeks.
After the fires, Martinez and members of Set Free church of Yucaipa barbecued and provided dinner to community members still in their homes.
"It's not about us, we're not trying to promote our church," said Martinez, who also prayed with victims and passed out bottles of water. "It's about Jesus saying, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"
Despite the ongoing cleanup efforts, Martinez said the members of Northpark will continue their efforts.
"We've rented a large bin and skip-loader [a tractor to clean up debris] to help fire victims," he said. "We're trying to be proactive about possible damage the winter rains can do. Everyone is excited to help."