Four-year-old Riley Wooten literally ran from his house in Paradise, Calif., with his grandmother and his dog as their home suddenly erupted in flames.
He grabbed his favorite toy, a dinosaur named Chompy, but left behind everything else, including his prized collection of other dinos.
He and his family made it safely out of town that day last month to relatives’ homes, dodging fire raining around them in the Camp Fire blaze that killed almost 90 people and scorched about 14,000 homes. In the aftermath, friends and family kept asking Riley’s family: What can we do to help?
In response, Riley’s great aunt, Tanya Renfro, posted on Facebook that maybe someone could send Riley a toy dinosaur, as he sorely missed his collection. She added a photo of Riley on Halloween dressed as a triceratops. Within days, boxes and boxes of dinosaurs, dino-themed blankets, pillowcases, movies, books and lamps started appearing at their doorstep.
There were walking velociraptors, talking teradons, light-up triceratops and a roaring T-Rex.
“All my friends shared my Facebook post and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, give me that baby’s address,’ ” Renfro said. “Some days, we’d get five packages.”
Riley’s collection has been replenished to about 100 different dinosaur toys. But the boxes keep coming — and about half of the packages are from complete strangers.
“The outpouring has been amazing,” Renfro said. “I can’t even describe how much the community has come together to help. Everybody lost everything, nobody had time to get their things.”
Riley’s family is grateful for the many dinosaur toys people have sent, which are helping Riley as he deals with the trauma of watching his home and all his belongings go up in flames.
“My old school burned down,” Riley said in an interview with The Washington Post, and he also described how he left his favorite blue helmet in his old house, and now it’s gone.
“Sometimes he’ll cry and say ‘I want to go home,’ ” Renfro said.
But he excitedly talks about his new toys.
“I got dinosaur blankets, I got a pillowcase with my name on it and a dinosaur that poops other dinosaurs out,” he said in the phone interview.
Riley has been raised by his grandmother, Teri Shesson, 58, with the help of other family members since he was just a few weeks old, when his parents couldn’t care for him and they wanted Riley to be raised in a stable, loving home.
“He’s the sweetest boy and he’s very smart,” Renfro said.
He and his grandmother are now living with Riley’s aunt, Jenny Benson, 34, in the town of Gridley, which is about 30 miles from Paradise. Riley and Shesson are sleeping in a room with Benson’s son, who is roughly the same age as Riley.
It has been a bit of a challenge at times, but Benson said they all feel extraordinarily fortunate because they are aware that many people were not able to escape the fire, or if they did, have nowhere to go.
Benson gets excited with Riley every time a package arrives. She has also been helping him set aside some of his new dinosaur toys for other kids in need.
“He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything,” Benson said, adding there is a local shelter in town where she can bring them. “It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”