"I thought it would be a great way to help the neighbors and it also turned out to be a great way to get to know my neighbors even better," Whitehill said. "I had people that I had never really talked to before come over and while their phone was charging we would be talking about the fire and the power outage."
Whitehill said he bought a generator for his home after his family lost $400 worth of food in a power outage. Deciding to share the benefits, he began setting up the neighborhood charging station when PG&E had planned public safety power outages that left many neighbors without electricity.
"Sometimes when the power is out like this, the only thing you really have these days is your phone," Whitehill said. "If you get low on battery or run out, then you have nothing."
Rich Goldberg used the station to charge his phone when power was out at his home. He called Whitehill's charging station an "oasis" for those who were completely in the dark, especially as residents tensely waited for updates on the fire.
"With no power and no internet, your phone is really the only connection to the outside world," Rich said. "We could find out what was happening and monitor whether or not we had to evacuate — that was crucial."
One neighbor, Lori Bedford, used the power from the generator to blow dry her hair as she prepped for her first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"George was kind enough to string an extension cord so I took my dryer and my mirror over in the morning and did my hair in his backyard," Bedford said. "(It was) kind of a lifesaver for us."
Whitehill also provided ice to neighbors and offered space in his refrigerator for those worried about food spoiling.
"I really take for granted sometimes our home and family and pets and all our possessions and you just think it's a given that they're always going to be there," Whitehill said. "It was just very scary to think that all of that could've gone away just because of the wind direction or because of an accident. (The fire) has given me a renewed appreciation and gratitude for everything I have."
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