THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Johnny Hekker noticed a glow in the hills as he drove south from Simi Valley to Thousand Oaks on Monday night and couldn't make out what it was. He turned on the news when he got home and found out about the wildfires that had begun to affect Ventura County, then woke up the next morning and realized how quickly it was all spreading.
"I smelled the smoke, saw ash on my car when I went outside and just realized that there was something that needed to be done," Hekker said. "I'm sure there were people that were misplaced."
Hekker, the Los Angeles Rams' Pro Bowl punter, reached out to a local reporter for ways he could help and sprung into action. He went to a local Target with his wife, who wanted to help despite being seven months pregnant, and loaded up an entire truck with supplies.
"She handled all the lady stuff," Hekker said. "I handled all the guy stuff."
Hekker drove the supplies to Ventura County Fairgrounds and distributed them to the people whose lives had suddenly been turned upside down. He brought mostly sweatpants and sweatshirts to help keep everyone warm, but he also brought sporting goods to keep the children entertained. He saw a young boy walking around with one of the bats that he purchased, and he said it "moved me quite a bit."
While at the checkout line at Target, an employee working at the pharmacy gave Hekker $40 because he wanted to help.
"It moved my wife to tears," Hekker said. "I was shaken up by that, too, just the generosity of people."
"Being citizens of Ventura County, we're all in it together. It's a real situation where we can really rally around one another and try to help lift the spirits of these people that have lost everything they knew."
Fires in Ventura County have displaced tens of thousands of residents and burned more than 65,000 acres. The air quality at the Rams' Thousand Oaks, California, facility prompted them to cancel their typical Wednesday practice and instead stage an indoor walk-through. But they will practice as scheduled on Thursday.
Hekker is trying to partner with the American Red Cross and is looking into potentially starting a GoFundMe page to aid those affected by the wildfires, which are now also devastating Los Angeles.
Hekker could've simply written a check, but he chose to immerse himself, instead.
"I grew up in a family that loves to serve our community," Hekker said. "My parents were really active in our churches, community outreach, and just having that serving spirit. You feel the rewards that come from working and serving other people and not asking for anything in return. When people are in need, you're quick to act and don't think much about it because if that were our families, then I would hope that there would be people in the community that were in our situation that would help them immediately."