In the wake of the CZU August Lightning Complex fires that ripped through local communities, residents of the San Lorenzo Valley looked for ways to help their neighbors. Local businesses set up fundraisers for volunteer fire departments to say “thank you”; restaurants offered free meals to those displaced by the fire; area quilt makers put their skills to work, creating warmth for those who lost everything; and local resident Erik Olsen found an opportunity to generate funds for his SLV neighbors whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the flames of the August inferno.
Olsen created an online store called The Great Santa Cruz Mountains (TGSCM) featuring T-shirts, hoodies and general SLV swag designed to raise funds for those in need.
Press Banner: Erik, I see that you moved to SLV from San Jose in 2009. What do you do for a living when you’re not making T-shirts and hoodies?
Erik Olsen: I was laid off from my job in June. It was an already tough year with Covid-19, but then my daughter, dog and I were evacuated during the crazy heat wave-lightning storm in mid-August. I was luckily awake from the loud wind from the storm, when at 2:50am I saw lightning strike a redwood tree and start a fire 75 yards from my bedroom window. If I would have not seen the fire and instead slept through the storm, I believe the fire would have reached ours and other homes and been a much worse situation. I woke up my daughter, we got the dog and in less than a minute we were in the car. Because the direction of the fire was really close to the only road in and out of our neighborhood, we had to drive through flames and smoke, and could barely see to make it out, honking to wake up neighbors. The next day we were allowed back and saw that no homes were damaged in my neighborhood, only 3 acres burned due to Cal-Fire’s super quick response. But when I saw that Big Basin was burning and homes were being destroyed, I was beyond sad. Almost immediately I wanted to create a design that showed my Santa Cruz Mountains (SCM) pride to help raise money for the community. Making this design has been a great way for me to focus my time and energy on something positive to help people.
PB: Do you have silkscreening and production capabilities in your home or office, or are you procuring these items entirely online?
EO: I am ordering blank shirts and hoodies and having them screened at a local screen printer. I Googled “how to fundraise with shirts,” and made a web store.
PB: Are you doing this alone, or do you have a team working with you?
EO: I am doing this on my own, learning as I go. I’m a single dad and my 17-year-old daughter lives with me full time, so I was able to run any of my ideas and color choices by her first to get her opinion.
PB: How many items have you sold so far, and what’s your marketing strategy?
EO: I sold out the first run of hoodies and shirts in a week by posting on Nextdoor and Instagram and will continue to get the word out for this second run. Even though the fires are out, there are still so many families in need so I plan to keep raising money as long as I can.
PB: The only brick-and-mortar location for sales is the Redwood Estates store, correct? Have you been approached by any other local vendors to promote your items? Would you be open to it?
EO: Redwood Estates Store, Summit Market and NC Boardshop in Los Gatos (they helped me get a good deal on blank tees and hoodies). I have not been approached by anyone else, but I am open to get TGSCM design in local stores for more fundraising.
PB: Have you heard back from any of the recipients of your fundraising efforts?
EO: I’ve gotten great responses from people who received their items. Two days after I launched the product line, I made the first donation to the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County’s (CFSCC) fire response fund of $563, and we’ve donated almost $1,500 to date. [All] donations to CFSCC go directly to help fire victims. There’s been no response from CFSCC, but the money was withdrawn. I will keep donating 100% of profits until everything is sold out.
PB: How can folks support your efforts, Erik?
EO: The best way to help is to make a purchase and follow our Instagram @TheGreatSantaCruzMountains where we are posting cool SCM facts, photos, and info.