When Ryan Bennie mentioned that he and his fellow firefighters “need a break,” he was saying a mouthful. Ryan was front and center during the Northern California wildfires that erupted in October 2017, racking up more than $9 billion in damages and taking dozens of lives along the way.
“It’s hopefully my career fire,” he says.
In addition to serving as a California firefighter and training captain for the Napa County Fire Department, Ryan heads up the Napa County Firefighters Association, a nonprofit organization that supports area fire departments with training and other services. On March 26, Ryan was on hand to accept a donation of 2,000 pounds of CytoSport products in honor of the association and the work of Napa Valley firefighters.
Courtney Nordine was one of the CytoSport employees who made the one-hour drive from Walnut Creek, Calif., up to Yountville, Calif., to thank Ryan and other firefighters for their extraordinary service. Courtney, who works in sports marketing, remembers standing by last fall as her supervisor prepared to evacuate her home.
There was “constant support” in the office, Courtney says. “Lots and lots of land, homes and people were affected by fires that seemed they were never going to end.”
Courtney’s assessment isn’t far from the truth.
“Every ridge around us was on fire. It was mind-blowing,” Ryan says. “I kissed my wife and kids, left home and worked 96 hours. I got released 14 days later.”
Firefighters came in from the majority of U.S. states and from as far away as Australia, reinforcing what Ryan and others refer to as a “huge brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Some firefighters knew their homes were burning, he says, but left anyway to help save the residents of Napa County.
It’s just one of the reasons Courtney and the CytoSport team were “here to help out and show … support.”
“It’s really amazing,” she says. “I get to work for a company that’s right there, right away.”
PB and Love
After CytoSport honored the Napa County Firefighters Association, other members of the Hormel Foods team – and a handful of firefighters – headed over to CANV (Community Action of Napa Valley) Food Bank to pack the pantry with 1,200 jars of SKIPPY® peanut butter and to give the organization a check for additional supplies. The visit was funded by Hormel Foods in partnership with the Safeway grocery chain and specifically, its store in Napa, Calif.
Days like these serve to remind Elisa Ulaszek why she abandoned her career in finance to step into the role of program coordinator for the food bank.
“It makes me feel better about what I do,” she says. “I’m inspired by the good in people.”
CANV Food Bank works with lower-income neighbors and nonprofit groups throughout Napa County, providing nutritious food at seven locations in the Napa Valley. Though the wildfires are no longer front-page news, area residents are still feeling the effects.
“The emotional toll and financial toll haven’t gone away,” says Stephen Clay Zusman, a Napa County firefighter known simply as Zus. “It’s very trying. It takes a lot of help along the way.”
We want to give people hope that there’s going to be an OK tomorrow.Brittany Turner
Brittany Turner, a category analyst early in her career with Hormel Foods, was eager to be part of the project. She believes the company’s history of strengthening communities is its most important mission.
“Everyone needs help at the end of the day,” she says. “There’s such a need for these essential items.”
“People come up to us because we are public servants in uniform,” Zus says. “What [Hormel Foods and Safeway] have shown is that anybody can be a provider …. You don’t need to be in uniform. You don’t have to raise your right hand and take an oath of allegiance.”
In that environment, people are transformed, with something as simple as peanut butter taking on a new meaning.
“We want to give people hope that there’s going to be an OK tomorrow,” Brittany says.