A San Diego businessman wanted to do something to help young people affected by the Camp Fire, which decimated the city of Paradise, Calif., earlier this month.
So Bob Wilson came with two suitcases full of $1,000 checks – enough for each of Paradise High School’s 980 students and 105 staff members, including teachers, janitors and bus drivers.
On a rainy Tuesday night, the students and staff from a town now dispersed showed up at nearby Chico High School, where Wilson handed out the checks — $1.1 million in all, according to The Associated Press.
He remembers high school as a formative, positive time. “High school had a great impact on my life,” he told the AP. “In fact, I would say it was the first, last and only truly carefree time.”
Wilson told NBC News that he explored other ways of distributing money to students, like gift cards, but ultimately just decided to give students the money directly, so they can spend it how they choose.
“I made the decision within two or three minutes of reading the news, that I would like to give these kids something,” he told NBC. “So they could have some good times and I could put a smile on their faces and maybe lift their spirits.”
It was also a chance for the school community to come together and see one another.
“It’s been good to see everybody,” senior Kate Minderhoud told the Paradise Post. “Everyone is just so excited to see everyone.”
“It’s been heartwarming to see them because there’s so much angst pent up for so long,” she added. “So that when you see everyone you realize that it’s so awesome just to see them — that we got out and we’re so lucky.”
The fire destroyed most of the schools in Paradise, where the death toll has risen to 88, with many others still missing. At least 5,000 students are estimated to have been displaced. With their homes gone, many families are living in hotels or makeshift tent cities.
The school district is preparing to re-open on Monday, but largely in makeshift locations. Students at Paradise Intermediate and Paradise High School will do independent studies at a site in the Chico Mall – a temporary solution while the district works out a long-term location for January.
“We are not going anywhere,” the district posted on its website. “We are Ridge Strong. Please take care of yourself and your families, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.”