Supporting Valley Fire Relief Efforts

The Valley Fire caused widespread devastation and hardship for thousands of victims and evacuees in Lake County. The latest reports indicate that the 76,000-acre blaze is 97 percent contained, and has destroyed 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family structures, 66 commercial properties and 585 other minor structures, such as outbuildings and sheds.  Several hundred Napa Valley residents, business owners and service club members provided relief to those seeking shelter and assistance at the Calistoga Fairgrounds between September 12 and September 24.  We thank them for their compassion and generosity.

Valley Fire Update & Giving Options: October 1, 2015

On September 22, President Obama issued a disaster declaration for the Valley Fire, unlocking federal disaster aid dollars for individuals and businesses in Lake County.

Earlier this week, the Lake County Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) was opened in Middletown.  It is staffed with representatives from the California Office of Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and various Lake County public agencies.

From our experience with the South Napa Earthquake, we know that federal disaster aid dollars will be the largest source of support for Lake County residents who need assistance with temporary housing and property losses not covered by insurance.  ($47 million in federal aid was made available to more than 4,600 Napa County residents after last summer’s earthquake, compared with the $8.9 million we committed from the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund to assist earthquake victims.)

We also know that insurance payments–which were essentially absent from the post-quake rebuilding efforts in Napa County, where fewer than 5 percent of property owners had earthquake coverage–will be a more robust source of funding for the very significant number of residential and commercial construction projects that need to get started in Lake County in the months ahead.

And, despite widespread poverty in Lake County, we are hopeful that the high rates of home ownership there (63 percent in Lake County vs. 55 percent statewide) may suggest that more property owners than not will be able to get financial assistance from their insurance carriers for temporary housing, rebuilding and replacing lost property.

Beyond government aid and insurance payments, charitable gifts are an incredibly important source of support to the victims of a disaster.  Very often, such gifts can be deployed more quickly and more flexibly to help those in need.

In recent weeks, many of you have asked us how you might offer financial support to the victims of the Valley Fire, and we are grateful for your interest in helping our neighbors in Lake County–1,300 of whom commute every day to jobs in Napa County.

A handful of credible organizations have established special funds to accept donations for the Valley Fire, and others are in the process of collecting donations that will likely be distributed to nonprofits to provide services and support to victims.

At this time we are recommending direct gifts to the three nonprofit organizations listed below. Each is engaged day-to-day in assisting Valley Fire victims.  Because of the complex and changing nature of disaster recovery we may expand upon these recommendations in the future.

North Coast Opportunities, Inc. (NCO

NCO is a nonprofit community action agency (similar to Community Action Napa Valley, but with a broader scope of services and a larger annual budget) with a wide array of programs–from subsidized child care, Head Start centers, food banks, volunteer center activities and senior services.  It has a staff of 260 that work across Mendocino and Lake Counties and a 50-year track record of serving low-income households and other vulnerable populations.  They know and partner with other nonprofits, charitable groups (like churches) and public agencies in Lake County.

Importantly, NCO distributed emergency relief aid after the Rocky/Jerusalem Fire in Lake County, and has a process in place—application guidelines, application review and vetting, and distribution of aid—that it is using to help Valley Fire victims.

Up Valley Family Centers (UVFC)

UVFC is providing disaster aid to residents of Lake County who work in Napa County, or whose children attend school in Napa County.  The organization recently received a pledge of up to $250,000 from Napa Valley Vintners to support this work.

UVFC is a trusted nonprofit partner of Napa Valley Community Foundation.  We know the organization well and have a high degree of confidence in its leadership.  Like other family resource centers, they understand the challenges faced by lower-income families, and provide a host of programs aimed at bolstering the health, wellbeing and economic stability of parents and their children, including: helping families access subsidized health insurance and food programs, as well as free tax preparation services; facilitated learn and play groups for young children and their caregivers; and school readiness services that help preschoolers and their parents prepare to start kindergarten.

Although disaster aid at this scale is a new undertaking for the agency, they bring years of experience in helping families through short-term crises (like the loss of a job or a health setback) with programs, referrals and direct financial assistance.  They also bring to this project the hard-won experience of having provided services to hundreds of Lake County residents at the Calistoga Fairgrounds.

 Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa (CCSR)

CCSR has been working in Lake County for many years, primarily providing emergency food distribution through a few churches in the County. CCSR had to suspend its food distribution for the first week after the fire, but is now distributing again, and also is providing food at the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Middletown.

Beyond its food programs, CCSR is developing plans for how it will most effectively help Valley Fire victims.  One likely approach is for CCSR to provide re-housing assistance—housing placement and money for security deposits or first month’s rent. Re-housing for marginalized populations (like homeless) is a core area of work for CCSSR in Sonoma County; CCSR also ran a re-housing program in Lake County in 2011-2012, for residents at risk of becoming homeless.

Another possible approach for CCSR is to provide long-term case management to help fire victims build a safety net.  This would leverage knowledge the agency has developed from working on family economic support programs in recent years.  CCSR is sending staff from its housing and family economic stability programs to Lake County to assess the on-the-ground needs related to housing or long-term case management.

You can click on the hyperlinks above to make a donation directly.  If you’d like to recommend a grant distribution from your Donor Advised Fund, you can log on to your DonorCentral account from our website, or you can email your grant recommendation to Ellen Drayton at ellend@napavalleycf.org, or fax us at 707.254.7955.

In mid-September, we provided a list of nonprofits that were helping evacuees at the Calistoga Fairgrounds.  To see that list, please click here.

Photo credit: Howard Yune, Napa Valley Register

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