Operation Mailbox gives hope to fire victims who lost everything

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When fire swept through Mendocino County in October, destroying hundreds of houses, oftentimes the only thing that survived the destruction was the home’s metal mailbox.

Charred and dented mailboxes sitting on properties where everything else is gone are a sad reminder of the deadly fires that devastated the tourist destination about 160 miles north of San Francisco. 

Community volunteer Danilla Sands noticed the forgotten mailboxes and wanted to replace them to give fire victims a fresh start. 

“I find it to be a little bit of hope,’’ said Sands, who has lived in the county for 30 years. “It’s fresh wood, it’s new life, you are seeing this new object versus this old burned out thing.” 

Sands, who launched the Facebook page during the fires and has been coordinating people, projects and donations ever since, got down to work. Over the past week, a group of men - each with a specific skill - has been building 50 wooden mailboxes that will be installed in Redwood Valley on Saturday. 

“They are remarkable. They are really going to stand out,’’ she said.

They are crucial too.

Since the fires, residents have tied mailboxes to fences, placed them on stumps or done without. “Some people couldn't even find their mailboxes,’’ Sands said. “The mail (carriers) are saying, ‘you need a mailbox.’” 

Operation Mailbox, as the project is called, was supported by donations from several large stores, a lumber company, service club members and church parishioners, Sands said. 

“It’s an all-around community effort,’’ she said.

On Saturday, about 60 volunteers will fan out to install the 50 redwood mailboxes and deliver a first letter to residents.

“We wanted to give them their first piece of mail from the community to let them know that we are supporting them and also letting them know who donated to the project,’’ she said, adding that they’ll tack the letter to the side of the box since it’s against the law to open another person’s mailbox. 

Each mailbox will be encircled at its base with colorful painted rocks with inspirational sayings, such as “Mendo strong” and “hope” on them. 

“This just shows that this community cares about them,’’ Sands said. “We are here for them.”