In November, the Camp Fire swept through the city of Paradise, California, destroying much of the town and killing at least 88 people. When Bob Wilson witnessed the suffering of Paradise's students on his local news, he immediately knew he had to do something. Not long after, he arrived in Paradise with a briefcase filled with $1.1 million in gifts.
Wilson gained his fortune through "commercial real estate and shopping centers." He is also partial owner of six Fish Market restaurants in California. But although he's found success in adulthood, he still remembers his High School years with fondness:
"High school had a great impact on my life. In fact, I would say it was the first, last and only truly carefree time."
According to NBC News, he wanted to be sure every student in Paradise had a shot at getting that same experience, despite the disaster that had engulfed their town:
"I made the decision within two or three minutes of reading the news, that I would like to give these kids something. So they could have some good times and I could put a smile on their faces and maybe lift their spirits."
And so, on Tuesday, November 27, the "980 students and 105 staff members" of Paradise High School gathered at nearby Chico High School, where Wilson gave them each a check for $1,000. The $1.1 million total included checks for teachers, janitors, and bus drivers, all of whom were equally affected by the Camp Fire.
The gathering also served another purpose—bringing friends together for a reunion. Senior Kate Minderhoud told the Paradise Post:
"It's been good to see everybody. 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. 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."
Some estimates believe as many as 5,000 students have been displaced by the fire, which destroyed most of the schools in Paradise. According to NPR, "with their homes gone, many families are living in hotels or makeshift tent cities."
People online were inspired by Wilson's heart:
The school district plans to re-open Monday using several temporary solutions while a long-term strategy is being put into effect for January. Paradise Intermediate and Paradise High School students will both be taking classes at the nearby Chico Mall. The school district wrote on its website:
"We are not going anywhere. We are Ridge Strong. Please take care of yourself and your families, and we look forward to seeing you again soon."