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Whole Community Recovery

It’s take the whole community to make a community whole.

By Cynthia Shaw

When a series of devastating wildfires ravaged California, thousands of homes were lost in minutes and many people were suddenly coping with unprecedented challenges. In small towns with a big sense of community, neighbors came together to help one another, mobilizing with great generosity.

Two weeks later, many community groups and agencies big and small are still working together on the relief efforts—distributing truckloads of relief supplies, while also providing food, comfort and shelter to those affected by these disasters.

In the initial hours of the California Wildfires, working closely with local emergency management, several community groups and the American Red Cross opened a combined total of 12 shelters across California for those impacted by the many wildfires. Petaluma Animal Services and other animal groups have provided care for the evacuated pets and animals at many of the shelters.

These shelters have provided for the immediate needs to evacuated residents, including a safe place to stay, food (meals, snacks), water, medicines and basic health services, emotional support and other support resources. To date, community groups and Red Cross have supported over 11,000 overnight stays for residents affected by the evacuation orders.

Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Brad Smisloff, Jason Pasternack, Andrew Wild, Greg Way, and their "phone list" of Napa Valley wine and food industry contacts served over 36,000 meals at the Napa County Fairgrounds Shelter in Calistoga. Side by side with the Southern Baptist Convention, Salvation Army, and Jackson Rancheria, the Red Cross served over 85,000 meals and snacks.

The difficult recovery from these wildfires makes this a frustrating and emotionally draining time for everyone involved. Napa County, Lake County, Calaveras County, and Red Cross Mental Health and Health professionals have provided over 8,500 basic health and mental health contacts.

Clean clothes were also scarce in the smoky aftermath of the fires and communities were without access to water or power. As dirty laundry piles grew larger, the Southern Baptist Convention brought in the laundry trailer to provide free laundry services and they bought their shower trailer as well.

“When disaster strikes, hundreds of people and businesses step up to the plate to help,” said Jeff Baumgartner, American Red Cross of the California Northwest Chapter Executive. “We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of these businesses, organizations, and individuals who made significant efforts to help people affected by these wildfires.”

Several Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, 7th Day Adventist churches and Methodist churches throughout the Lake and Napa Counties, Redwood Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware as well as the Red Cross, have been gathering and handing out cleaning, hygiene and comfort items in hardest-hit neighborhoods devastated by the Valley fire when the evacuation orders are lifted. These items include water, snacks, non-perishable meals, and clean-up items such as gloves, buckets, trash bags, sifters, and dust masks. To date, over 50,000 relief items have been handed out.

Assistance Centers have been opened where residents can access resources available from many organizations, including Tzu Chi, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Children’s Disaster Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, government departments like unemployment and DMV, PG&E, Red Cross and many others. Red Cross case workers are meeting one-on-one with people on matters such as family reunification, funeral assistance, emergency needs and recovery planning. If the Red Cross is not providing for a specific need, our caseworkers are able to help residents get connected to the partner agency that is meeting that specific need. Nearly 1,200 cases have opened by Red Cross caseworkers to provide individualized recovery support.

Disasters are often complex, with complex needs - and no single agency can meet every need on its own; it takes collaboration and partnership. The Red Cross is one of many agencies coming together to ensure that basic needs are met and to work on the long-term recovery of entire communities and to help them be prepared for and more resilient in the face of future wildfires.