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February 6, 2023

Inside Samaritan’s Purse: Hope

I have known Cay Thornley for more than 10 years. Recently, Cay was talking about a volunteer position she had with Felton Bible Church. It is her story of the ring that inspired this article.

I was curious because I had noticed when I turned onto Zayante Avenue at the corner of Graham Hill, I noticed two tractor-trailers parked at the Church. Upon seeing the words, ‘Samaritan’s Purse,’ I thought how clever. The other trailer was Billy Graham Ministries.

80 families given hope 

Cay’s job, along with the other volunteers, was to man the phone ‘Hotline.” The Santa Cruz Resource Center was where wildfire victims could receive information and resources available to them. The flyer available to victims explained, “Samaritan’s Purse mobilizes staff and equipment and enlists thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to victims not only in wildfires but natural disasters in the United States, at no fee.”

So then, if a family chose to use their services, they called the hotline. 

They helped the families in Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, Brookdale and Davenport, primarily. We do not mention specific names, but we can only imagine their emotions as they shifted through the ashes. 


I learned that In disaster areas, Samaritan’s Purse always partners with a local church, where it sets up a command center, mobilizes volunteers, and serves the community in need. Once on the ground, Samaritan’s Purse assessment teams begin canvassing hard-hit neighborhoods and talking with victims to let them know help is available.

I asked Tom O’Brien, regional program manager, North American Ministries at Samaritan’s Purse, “How did you happen to come to Felton, park your tractor-trailers and get volunteers to work so quickly?” He said, “..our organization is in a constant state of readiness, so while watching and tracking all the wildfires in California and seeing the disproportionate loss of homes in your area, the process began.”

Treasure in the ashes

Meeting the procedural and requirements of FEMA, EPA and the Santa Cruz County agency’s families could decide to use Samaritan’s Purse services. Volunteers and the families, once given the go by the County Environmental Health department, they could enter their properties. 

One story begins with literally sifting through the ashes and debris. Underneath the rumble and burnt ash, almost hidden from view, was a small box. Inside, a family heirloom, the ring. At that moment, you can imagine the welling of emotions and gratitude. It is here where the primary mission of Samaritan’s Purse key. They can pray together.

Asking both Cay and Tom about their primary mission and purpose, they shared the importance of their service work: “We want to share the gospel with the people and give them hope of Jesus Christ.”

So Grateful

What stuck Cay the most from her experience as a volunteer was, “How overwhelmed these people were. They could not believe that we would be offering these services to them free, our gift. We come here to help others at the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Tom shared about one family, where they discovered pieces of porcelain china. “You would imagine the heat of the fire melting them, but there were whole complete pieces, and once dusted off, they offered the same beauty of detail they once had.” For this family, they were immensely grateful. 

Samaritan’s Purse deployed to Felton on Sept. 12 and left the Felton Bible Church parking lot mid-October. They had over 257 volunteers and generated over 3,600 hours of service. Of the 80 families that registered to use their services, 71 families revisited their burnt properties with volunteers who helped them search through the ashes to recover valuables and other meaningful items. The families did not have to face this unimaginable situation alone and together held hands and prayed, knowing they were not alone.

If you wish to contact them: Samaritan’s Purse, Southern California office, 4200 Bonita Pl, Fullerton, CA 92835; (714) 432-7030

Janet Janssen is a personal development/sales coach, speaker and trainer. She will be presenting her “Tips and Tricks Online Presentation at the Cupertino Chamber on Nov. 12. Email her for the details at [email protected] or visit www.janetjanssen.com


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