As firefighters continue to battle the Glass fire, residents in Sonoma and Napa counties are grappling with a range of difficult experiences and emotions – displacement, fear, anxiety, stress – compounded by the pandemic and the emotional toll of living through a series of wildfires.
At the peak of danger during this most recent fire, 50,000 residents were evacuated in Sonoma County. As of Thursday, at least 36 homes had been reported destroyed in Sonoma County, and 107 in Napa. 21 people have been injured. 56,781 acres have burned.
Many people are currently in need of support and, for those not immediately affected by the fires, volunteering can be a good way to take your mind off your own worries while aiding recovery efforts.
The Sonoma County Emergency Preparedness website is a good starting point for anyone wishing to help out or for those in need of support. You can also dial 211 or text your zip code to 898-211 to get help for yourself or someone else in need (available 24 hours a day, seven days a week). The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County also lists a number of ways to donate time and money on their website.
Listed below are a few more ways to help others (and also access services if you are in need of help).
Provide Emotional Support, Shelter
The effects of repeat trauma are well documented – the recurrence of wildfires in this area can certainly have a compounding impact.
It may seem obvious, but being a good friend and checking in with those around you can be a very valuable way of providing help while supporting the emotional wellbeing of the community.
If a friend or family member has been evacuated, or lost their homes, “just” listening is sometimes the best support that you can offer. Carolynn Spezza, who lost her home in the 2015 Valley Fire, provides a list of suggestions on how to help a friend who has lost their home in a fire.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, evacuation centers have more limited capacity. If you have a vacation home or enough space in your own home to safely host other people, consider inviting friends who have been forced to evacuate. Offering shelter for someone’s pets can also help that person find temporary accommodations more easily.
Keep in mind that, if someone you know is experiencing trauma-related distress, they should seek professional help through their healthcare provider or other licensed practitioners. 211 Sonoma County provides free, confidential, 24/7 information and referral service and also has an online database. Dial 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898-211 for more help.
The Sonoma County Warm Line also provides free and confidential support if you or someone you know is experiencing emotional stress and anxiety. The line is available seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Call 707-565-2652. Service is available in English and Spanish with telephone translation available for other languages.
Help out from home, or by delivering food
Looking for ways to help out but concerned about the coronavirus? For homebound seniors, a daily phone call can make a big difference. This important need can be fulfilled from your home. Petaluma People Services’ You are Not Alone program is looking for volunteers to make those calls (to learn more about the program, email email@example.com).
Providing home food delivery is another way to help, while keeping potential exposure to the coronavirus low. The Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program is looking for volunteers.
Consider making a donation
Sonoma County Emergency Management Director Christoper Godley explains that one of the best ways to help others and support recovery efforts is to donate “cold hard cash.”
“That energy that cash represents allows people to start anew investing in their lives and get moving down the road to recovery,” said Godley.
The Sonoma County Emergency and Preparedness website recommends organizations for your monetary gifts, including Undocu Fund, Community Foundation Resilience Fund, and Sonoma County Fire Relief.
Gift cards are also being sought by various organizations to purchase supplies.
For more information on how to give visit: socoemergency.org/emergency/how-to-help.
FEMA aid is now available for Sonoma and Napa County wildfire survivors. The Federal Emergency Management Association is accepting applications for grants to cover repair costs, rent and medical expenses not covered by insurance. Read more here.
Help feed people
The Redwood Empire Food Bank has been feeding the local community since 1987. They respond to the immediate needs of people “through the provision of healthy food and nutrition education,” and pursue long term solutions to food insecurity. The food bank has been involved in relief efforts during previous natural disasters – through fires and floods – and is now working hard to provide food to a growing number of people facing food insecurity during the pandemic and the most recent fires.
Consider volunteering for the food bank which needs help sorting items into grocery boxes and distributing them. Much-needed shelf-stable food can be donated to one of these sites, and cash donations can be made here. A $10 donation can provide meals to 20 seniors.
Redwood Empire Food Bank, 3990 Brickway Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-523-7900, refb.org
Sonoma Family Meal was founded during the 2017 October fires by Sonoma Media Investment (SMI) dining editor Heather Irwin. (SMI owns Sonoma Magazine). Since then, the nonprofit has served more than 400,000 chef-made meals to people affected by disasters like wildfires and floods, and, more recently, the pandemic. The organization works directly with local non-profits, government agencies and first-responders to identify those in most need.
Consider volunteering for Sonoma Family Meal, or make a donation.
Support the local economy
Wildfires, now coupled with the pandemic, have delivered a considerable blow to local restaurants, wineries, retail stores and other businesses. Many can use all the support they can get. Giving evacuees and friends impacted by the fires gift cards has multiple benefits: it’s a kind gesture for a friend in need, and it supports a business and the local economy. Keep in mind to ask the person what they need and where they would like to shop, and give them a gift card to a suitable business.
Help a friend with dinner by getting them a fantastic take-out meal from their favorite restaurant. Or offer someone a gift pack of little luxuries, like locally-made hand lotions or savory snacks. Give stores business right now by starting your holiday shopping early and encouraging others who are able to do the same.
Remember, locally-owned businesses reinvest their revenue in the local economy to a greater extent than their big-box counterparts. If you’ve ever thought about making “shop local” a priority, now is the time.