When the Woolsey Fire broke out last November, Malibu saw many heroes from all walks of life step up to the occasion and protect the city they loved.
In particular, a group of 10 or so women—some of whom knew each other for decades, some who had never met—saw a dire plea for help and immediately went to work.
A group consisting of Helen Hening, Dru Ann Jacobson, Judy Merrick and Christine Feret first helped set up a supplies area in Red Ladder Gallery owner Eamon Harrington’s garage. This was mostly to help the Point Dume Bombers, a group of young men in their 20s and 30s who went around town and helped save numerous homes during the fire.
Then, when the operation grew to help serve other Malibu residents in need, Kim McGee—a 37-year Point Dume resident who joined the group—said the women decided upon the Point Dume Marine Science School parking lot.
“Who would have thought of this?,” she said, in an interview with The Malibu Times. “It’s so miraculous the way this organically happened.”
Others also joined in, including Jessica Steindorff, Patricia Hewitt Mendoza and Pamela LeGrand. Around this time, supplies were being brought in to those who stayed behind via boat at Paradise Cove.
“We started setting up tables and such, and as supplies starting coming in from the boats, we would go down and load our cars up,” LeGrand explained.
Jacobson called the set up “a little city in essence,” complete with a grocery “store,” gas station, animal rescue, a CVS-like station and more.
Each member of their group had their role; for example, LeGrand was in charge of sundries—which included first aid supplies, toiletries and other miscellaneous goods—while Hewitt Mendoza took charge of any hardware that came through such as batteries and flashlights. Hening, a “logistical genius,” per McGee, was able to coordinate supply deliveries despite the sheriff department’s roadblocks. Steindorff’s speciality was focused on animals; she coordinated deliveries for people who had horses, dogs and other animals who remained behind.
Naturally, the group came up with a name for themselves.
“One of the girls said, ‘We’re the brigade of bitches,’ and it just stuck,” McGee recalled with a laugh.
They had a natural routine of arriving to the Point Dume site anywhere between 6-8 a.m. and staying until 10 p.m. to serve anyone who stopped by.
Though Jacobson, now in her 60s, called this fire the “worst we’ve ever been through,” she called the experience of working with these women and other countless volunteers amazing.
“[There was] nothing they wanted to take from it except they wanted to give back,” she explained. “It was purely unselfish, just to be there for our community.”
As these women will tell you, it is nearly impossible to recognize every single person who made aiding the process of aiding their community as seamless as it ended up being, but assistance came from every direction. In addition to the Paradise Cove donations, for example, chef Dane Skophammer of Malibu Farm took food from Mastro’s, cooked it at Duke’s Malibu and brought it all back for people to enjoy at the Point Dume site. (Not to mention—his mother, Jennifer, “cooked vats of coffee” to fuel people, per LeGrand.) Additionally, gourmet caterer Jennifer Naylor concocted massive meals. The two served approximately 150 people, which included an assortment of the Brigade, Bombers, residents, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and others. Another man, whose name LeGrand was unable to recall, “would go pick fruit off of all of his fruit trees” and make fruit salads for all.
“We just had so many people in the community coming together and people that wanted to help or just have a place to come sit and talk,” LeGrand explained, and later added: “We kept doing this until right before the school [PDMSS] ended up opening back up.”
They ended up storing some donations in the city’s Community Emergency Resource Team (CERT) bins around the city due to possible floods, per LeGrand.
Later, the group created a “store”—much like the ones that popped up around the city—for burned-out residents at Steindorff’s home to receive goods they needed, such as clothes, toiletries and other supplies. Two more women, Kim Collen and Gayle Pritchett, came to assist with the stores.
Around Christmas time, they even established a “play yard” for kids so their parents could “pick out toys their kids could have” for the holiday.
Once they began to get an idea of what the typical burned-out resident would need, they began creating prepackaged bags. The store ran for a number of weekends in a row.
Since then, the “brigade of bitches”—part support group, part sisterhood—has met up regularly to share in each other’s company.
“I feel so blessed to be able to have been here and be apart of it [all],” LeGrand said. “My heart truly goes out to everyone who lost.”
Steindorff, who grew up with members of the Point Dume Bombers, said the experience was “so powerful, so magical.”
“It’s so inspiring to know women can come together and pretty much do anything,” she explained.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify Feret's first name.