Like many of us in Marin, I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday, Oct. 8 to the intense smell of smoke and fire coming from the North Bay wildfires. For me, the smell brought on a flood of memories — I suffered third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of my body as a toddler. The hint of smoke in the air took me back to that moment more than 40 years ago.

That Monday after the start of the wildfires, the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership announced they were opening an Emergency Volunteer Center to shelter evacuees and funnel volunteer support. Since 9/11, EVCs have been put in place to manage the Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers (SUVs) who show up to help in disasters. As I saw posts explode on social media about the hordes of donations being taken to the Marin center, I was glad to be able to know where I could plug in to help the community.

I spent Monday through Sunday at the evacuation shelter and was blown away by the sheer number of people who wanted to help. In the end, we were able to direct 1,500 volunteers to help at the shelter for six days, 24 hours a day. From serving meals to sorting donations, volunteers helped to do it all. More than 12,000 people registered in six days to help — it was mind-boggling. But there was a downside: people were desperate to help but did not know HOW to plug in. Read about the EVC from an AmeriCorps member., the Marin Humane Society and the Marin Medical Reserve Corps were active nonprofit partners at the shelter. Each of them functioned seamlessly with teams of volunteers coming in at regular intervals to help in very specific ways. It was amazing to watch the community come together in a coordinated effort through these agencies. Much like I felt with CVNL, these volunteers were glad to have a directive on how to help with this large-scale disaster.

As a Community Heroes board member and site leader, I was reminded that this is what we teach our kids every week at our lunch meetings — how to give back on a daily and ongoing basis. We talk to our kids and families about connecting with an agency and giving back regularly — essentially to become affiliated with an agency. Another disaster may be just around the corner, whether it occurs literally around the corner or across the world.

I urge all of you to take a moment, connect with a local agency and start helping. Volunteering, donating money, goods and services and being on-call for that agency is the best way to plug in when a disaster strikes. Community Heroes has helped me deepen my relationship with local nonprofits by creating meaningful paths and projects to engage my kids. Reach out to Kala Shah if you need any suggestions on issue areas and agencies that help.

Atashi Chakravarty is a Community Heroes board member and facilitator, the development and volunteer coordinator at Trips for Kids Marin, a lifelong volunteer and nonprofit consultant.