That money has been a blessing for Marie Martinez, known as “Cheetah Marie” for her dedication to the preserve’s big cats. Martinez lost virtually everything when her home in Coffey Park was destroyed.

“There’s just no way to say thank you for something like that,” she said of the donations.

Martinez said she’s grateful that her family is safe and she has a job she loves at a place that, in light of its survival in the center of the worst firestorm in the state history, seems miraculous.

I had zero idea.

All the conversations I’ve had with Marie since the fires started and she never once said, yes, the animals are fine and its good that Peter saved them and I still have a job, but my house burned to the ground and everything I own was destroyed!

But that’s not who she is. She is intrinsically good without being lofty. Doing her best to help others and care for the animals she serves. I’ve never seen a single self-serving quality.

Ten days ago I wrote Marie about nominating Safari West for the conservation award for business. I had a question about the application and thought she would know the answer. Marie wrote back that she thought there was a plaque in the main office that might answer it, and she would check when she got back to work. Never once mentioning that she was dealing with the devastation of her home and still thinking about going back to work.

The go fund me campaign was originally started for owner Peter Langley whose home was destroyed while he saved the animals. But he turned around and reinvented that as funds for Safari West staff whose homes had also burned.

Hom and Suzie Bahmanyar were so enchanted by their first visit to Safari West two years ago, that when the Tubbs fire ravaged Sonoma County in October, they feared the worst for the 400-acre wildlife preserve.

But the San Jose residents read about how owner Peter Lang had stayed behind and, using little more than grit and a garden hose, battled through the night to save the preserve’s cheetahs, hyenas, lemurs and giraffes from the firestorm.

Inspired by his devotion, the pair jumped at the chance to attend the grand reopening of the Porter Creek Road attraction this weekend.

“After what the owner went through to save this park after his own house burned down, how could we not?” Suzie Bahmanyar said.

 Hornbostel also cited the GoFundMe page started by a San Jose software engineer named Mate Varga as another example of people’s desire to help. The funds are dedicated to the 11 Safari West employees who lost their homes in the fires. Each employee has received $4,000 to date, and donations continue to come in,

I know it’s Christmas and you have spent so much getting Billy’s new bike or Megan’s iphone. But these  people lost their homes, their pajamas, their spoons, their medicine cabinets, their remotes, their TV’s and their couches. They lost everything, Every Thing.  They are squeezed into whatever rental they could find and are still going to work because it feels normal in a world that has forgotten what normal is. We know the campaign is legit because here’s the creators posing with Peter and Nancy themselves, and they are as legit as it comes.

And more than any single person I have encountered on the wild beaver ride, Marie is the one woman who elevated us from a crazy rodent-friendly group to a true non-profit and worthy of support. Year after year after year Safari West gave SO much to us.

Reach deep into those couch cushions and give a little back if you can.