Popular food vendor lost everything in fire, but not her commitment to community
One month after losing everything in a house fire, Chermica Simmons hasn’t lost a step. Given the lines that often form at her food booth, she probably won’t have time.
Simmons, a fixture at VillageFest and the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market for the past two years, was working at a frenetic pace Thursday evening at her food booth. She and her crew from Mica’s Soul Kitchen have been doing that weekly ever since the Dec. 4 fire at her Desert Hot Springs home.
Lost in the fire were some of the essential tools she needed — including pots and pans, skillets, and utensils — as well as business basics such as her computer and printer, and food, including cooking oil, macaroni noodles, peaches, and collard greens. Not lost was her commitment to serving the community.
“I’ve been trying to do the street fair and drop in on the farmers’ markets when I can,” she said. “As long as I’m breathing, I’ll still be cooking.”
Simmons was cooking when the fire broke out, serving up plates of shrimp, chicken, mac and cheese, and more at the Palm Springs farmers’ market when she got a call from her neighbor that the home she was renting on Foxdale Drive was engulfed. She remembers rushing toward the scene, seeing the smoke in the air.
“I was helpless (and) couldn’t do anything but watch my house go up in smoke,” she said after the incident, believed to have started when a floor lamp caught fire. “I’m really shocked [and at a] loss of words.”
For her family, it wasn’t the first time tragedy had struck. Simmons’ older brother, Ernest “Chris” Simmons, Jr., a Palm Springs High School track team leader, was murdered in 1996 at the age of 18. In a twist of fate, one of her brother’s shirts was among the only things to survive the fire. There has been sadness as well. In 2019, Simmons lost her mother.
Through it all, she persevered, leaning on family and friends to get her through but still finding time to show up wherever somebody needed her and also to care for children at a daycare she ran from her home.
Since December, the community has been returning the kindness. More than 200 people have raised $15,000 toward the $25,000 she needs to replace her equipment and other household items not covered by insurance.
One significant thing still missing is a new place to call home. The fire-damaged Desert Hot Springs residence has been red-tagged and is no longer allowed to be occupied.
“I’ve been living at my grandmother’s home in DHS,” Simmons said. “Relocating is my main goal. I’m looking for a place anywhere from Palm Springs to Indio.”
Her neighbors will be lucky wherever she lands, and Simmons will be grateful.
“My family, we’re givers,” she said. “I try to give. The community saw that, and they’re stepping up for me.”
COFFEE WITH FIREFIGHTERS: Palm Springs firefighter/paramedics will be hosting their second “Coffee & a Conversation” event this morning at 9 a.m. The event is an opportunity for the community to meet the men and women of the Palm Springs Fire Department and discuss anything on their minds. Today’s event is at Cafe La Jefa, in the Flannery Exchange Building, located at 750 North Palm Canyon Dr. Last month’s event, held at Koffi in South Palm Springs, was profiled in this article.
CITY CLOSES BUILDINGS: City facilities will temporarily close to walk-in traffic beginning Monday, Jan. 10, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases that continues to impact the community at large as well as staff at City Hall. According to a news release issued Thursday, the following changes will take place for at least the next two to three weeks and will be re-evaluated as new data about COVID cases becomes available: City Clerk, Planning, Engineering, Building, Business license, and other services will continue to be available by phone call, or email. Appointments will be accepted for work that cannot be reasonably done by phone or email from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday; The Palm Springs Public Library will close to the public, but will continue to offer its popular Library-A-Go-Go Program which allows residents to reserve and pick up materials by visiting www.pslibrary.org or calling 760-322-READ. The Library’s popular passport program will continue to be available by appointment only; Parks and Recreation will offer outdoor programming only. The Swim Center will remain open.
THREE-VEHICLE COLLISION: One person was sent to the hospital Thursday after a three-vehicle traffic collision in Palm Springs. The Palm Springs Fire Department alerted the public to the crash at Gene Autry Trail and Dinah Shore Drive at 1:56 p.m. via Twitter. According to officials, emergency responders arrived at the scene to find three vehicles involved in the crash and one person in need of transportation to the hospital to treat unspecified injuries. The intersection was closed by the Palm Springs Police Department while they worked the scene. The cause of the crash was under investigation.
MIZELL CENTER: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers a class on creative collages, as well as chess lessons, Mah Jongg, and karaoke today, starting at 8 a.m. members are also headed to the Eisenhower campus for a blood drive at 7 a.m. You can find a complete list of all today’s classes online here.
SUNSHINE SISTERS: Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will meet for a fitness walk today in South Palm Springs. You can sign up to be part of the group — formed to help women make new connections and friendships — on Meetup here.
FOOD DISTRIBUTION: Well in the Desert distributes food every Saturday at 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. at 181 N. Indian Canyon Dr. For the early distribution, guests typically begin lining up at 5 a.m. and must show proof of residency. Guests are asked to bring a box, bags, or other containers to transport food items for both distributions. More information is available by phoning the Well’s office at 760-656-8905.
FARMERS’ MARKET: The Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market is held at 2300 E. Baristo Rd. (adjacent to The Camelot Theatres) from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. All Certified Farmers’ Markets offer a $15/$15 match to customers participating in CalFresh EBT and a $10/$10 match for WIC, SSDI, and federal unemployment. Find more details about all three Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Markets here.
FLEA MARKET: A flea market and food fest are held Saturdays at 675 Crossley Rd. from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Information can be found here.
GENEALOGY: the Palm Springs Genealogical Society holds a Zoom meeting on Saturday starting at 9:30 a.m. The topic this month — “10 Reasons You Can’t Find Your Ancestor” — will be presented by guest speaker Gena Philibert-Ortega. More information on the meeting can be found here.
BLOOD DRIVE: Blood donors will receive free admission to The Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 North Gene Autry Trail, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday. You can call Life Stream for an appointment at 1-800-879-4464. Walk-ins are also welcome.
JUST ‘AMELIA’: Michael Carra will present “Just Amelia” at The Palm Springs Air Museum Saturday from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. The presentation offers an in-depth look at the historical background and current information on Amelia Earhart and explores her disappearance in 1937. Carra will also look at the previous and most recent theories on the case, plus a look at a possible upcoming expedition to locate her remains. More information is available here.
SUNSHINE SISTERS: The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will meet for a pickleball clinic at Desert Princess on Saturday at 11 a.m. and an Italian dinner in a private room at Trilussa at 5 p.m. on Sunday. You can sign up to be part of the group — formed to help women make new connections and friendships — on Meetup here.