A personal touch

Nicolette Gamache

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Nicolette Gamache felt helpless on Nov. 8, the day the Camp Fire brought about so much destruction for her friends, family and community members. The next day, she had an idea: why not bring joy and comfort to survivors through jewelry? Gamache, who has been a jewelry designer for more than 30 years and sells her products at Made in Chico and on Etsy (NicolettesJewelry), gathered 100 pieces and went to the evacuation camp at the Walmart parking lot. Since then, she founded Jewelry For Survivors on Facebook, and has collected donations to continue giving free accessories to the displaced. All told, she has hand-crafted and given away more than 2,100 pieces of jewelry, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches and headbands. She’s distributed at the Disaster Recovery Center at the old Sears building, the American Red Cross evacuation shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, and has met with survivors privately. To find out more, contact Gamache at facebook.com/jewelryforsurvivors.

How have people reacted?

First, I get a look of disbelief I’m offering them free jewelry. Some smile and cry, and they try on the jewelry and I hug them. And they thank me, and I tell them how people from all over the country are sending me jewelry and supplies; that we care and that they matter. I[’ve] talked to just lots of people who would talk about their mother’s jewelry collection or their grandma’s jewelry collection, and they would pick out a piece that reminded them of something that their mother or grandmother would have had, so that was really sweet. I have learned that, in a time of necessity, a simple nonessential becomes such an unexpected luxury that’s very powerful and emotional.

What have you been able to give to survivors?

I’ve got a little bit of everything under the sun to offer, so there’s more [of an] ability for someone to connect with a piece. When something comes in, I’ll see all the stuff they have [donated] and say, “Oh, she’s got kind of a boho thing going on, or she’s [into] more conservative, office-[appropriate] stuff, or this person only likes silver, or this person was super into beads.” One lady dropped off over 100 pieces, and they’re all vintage.

What motivated you to do this?

I know that jewelry is a very sentimental thing for people, and it’s something that maybe isn’t clothes, food [or] shelter, but it actually comes quickly after that, as a way of personal identification, as adornment. Most people lost every piece of jewelry they had, all [of] their mom’s collection, their grandmother’s collection. Some people that didn’t lose everything—maybe they didn’t lose their home—they don’t feel like they deserve it. And I say, “Hey, if you’ve been through trauma, you deserve something nice, something that makes you feel good.” I can’t do anything to change what happened. But I can put a smile on someone’s face for a minute, and maybe longer.