MARTINEZ, Calif. – When Alicia Marazzani heard that Middletown High School students would have to postpone their homecoming because of the devastating fire that’s now considered the third worst in California history, she was touched.
Her feelings deepened when she learned that students were missing days and days of school. Then she found out that one in every four students had become homeless because of how many homes the fires had burned to the ground.
But Marazzani, a 17-year-old Alhambra High School senior, did more than listen to the tragic news. She began collecting school supplies so that those who returned to school for the first time in two weeks would be ready for class.
She also recruited members of the Alhambra Leadership Group, an organization with a president, vice president and other officers, and a cabinet of students that plan school events and activities.
A caravan of vehicles – at least two trucks and one sports utility vehicle – departed Wednesday morning. They’ll be packed with pens, pencils, binders, notebooks and all the other types of materials the school children of Middletown had before their belongings were incinerated along with their homes.
“I try to keep up to date with the news,” Marazzani said. Her interest ranges from local issues to those affecting the state, nation and the world.
When she saw coverage about the Valley Fire and heard how Middletown High School students wouldn’t have their homecoming on schedule, she thought about how she and her classmates would feel if that happened here. “I was really sad,” she said.
Homecoming is one of the important high school experiences, and it’s an event that goes far beyond the Alhambra High School campus and student body, she said. “Here in Martinez, the entire community comes together for homecoming.”
So she called the Middletown High School principal, Bill Roderick, and asked how she could help. The two began exchanging emails about what Middletown students needed.
Middletown has about 11,000 residents, three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, Marazzani said. She hasn’t been there, but now she knows a lot about the town.
She learned their school has about 400 students, compared to about 1,200 students at Alhambra High School. But of those in Middletown, 100 lost their homes. “That is one in four,” she said.
Roderick told her that many families whose homes were destroyed are low income, and they can’t afford to rebuild. The school will be losing students, and classmates will be losing friends when families have to move to somewhere they can afford to live.
“All these people are displaced,” Marazzani said.
What she didn’t learn right away – she found out later through a sports league – was Roderick and his wife are among those who lost their homes.
“He didn’t say anything about that. He was talking about the students,” she said. “That’s really sad.”
Marazzani asked Roderick, “What can we do to help?”
She started with her own friends. She made a flyer to spread the word. Her parents began talking to their friends. And the donations started coming in.
Then more arrived – supplies and gift cards to cover the cost of anything that hasn’t been donated.
Suddenly Marazzani was fielding questions from total strangers, who asked, “Could we drop by donations?”
At that point, she set up collection sites at other schools, not only here but elsewhere.
She spoke to Julie Anaya, a guidance counselor at Ygnacio Valley High School, Concord. Anaya told her she had grown up in nearby Cobb, and that she had attended Middletown High School.
“She showed me a picture of her aunt’s home. It had burned to the ground,” Marazzani said.
Anaya promised to get donations, and when she handed them to Marazzani, she said, “Here – take these to my school.”
Marazzani said she hoped she’d be able to fill a single truck with items for the drive out to Middletown. But as boxes of school supplies kept stacking up, she said, “Mom, we’re going to need another truck!” Her parents and members of the Alhambra Leadership Group finally secured the three vehicles that left the school Wednesday morning.
“I hope to talk to the kids,” she said.
She has learned Middletown High School has decided it will have a homecoming this year, even though no new date has been set.
So Marazzani already is planning her next trip to the town. The trucks will be carrying different supplies when they make that second trip. Instead of notebook paper and assignment books, they’ll be hauling gowns, suits and other attire appropriate for homecoming festivities.
“I want to set up racks of clothes in the gym,” she said. “I want to let the kids have shopping for free.”