(CNN) - When Bob Wilson heard that the students and staff at Paradise High School lost everything in the Camp Fire, he really wanted to do something for them.
So he did -- in a big way. On Tuesday, he gave each of them a $1,000 check.
The San Diego real estate developer and restaurant owner had never been to Paradise -- a Northern California town virtually wiped out by the devastating wildfire -- but he wanted to help.
He arrived with checks for each of the 980 students and more than 100 employees, including teachers, janitors and bus drivers. That's about $1.1 million.
"Let them figure out what they want to do with it," Wilson told CNN affiliate KHSL. "Maybe they'll help their family, maybe they want to buy gasoline for their car, maybe they want to buy a bicycle, it's up to them."
Wilson said he cherishes every moment he spent as a high school athlete and as part of the student government in Escondido and he couldn't bear to think about how the Paradise students are now missing out on that.
"To lose a house is big enough, but to lose the whole community and their whole high school experience?"
He initially thought about asking a non-profit for help or maybe buying gift cards for the students, but ultimately decided to just call the principal.
"The kids need it now," he recalled thinking.
Hundreds of students and their parents lined up at Chico High School on Tuesday afternoon -- first in disbelief and then grateful, not only for the money but for a chance to see their friends.
"Not only was it generous, but it kind of brought everybody together," parent Breanna Tamayo told CNN affiliate KCRA. "My daughter saw a lot of her friends. And so it was more than just the money, it was just very generous of him."
Principal Loren Lighthall was grateful for Wilson's generous donation.
"The money is great. Seeing the smiles and being happy and being around your friends is maybe even better," Lighthall told KCRA.
Paradise High School is still standing after the wildfire, but it's unclear when students and staff will be able to return to the campus. Next week, students will begin classes through independent study until long-term accommodations are ready in January, the Paradise United School District said.
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