Valley Fire Relief Effort Update

Valley Fire Relief Effort Update

by the Rev. Kay Rohde, Ministry Development Coordinator, The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California

The fires are out, but the relief work continues in Lake County. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lakeport is actively involved in helping those who are still being affected by the fires. Providing gift cards has been, and will continue to be, one of the most effective ways of helping people affected by the fire. Members of St. John’s, who have been active in the relief work since the fire began, continue to distribute gift cards and identify people who need assistance. To date, nearly $10,000.00 in gift cards have been distributed, mainly through contacts at the Middletown schools.

A member of St. John’s, Lakeport is a teacher at the Middletown elementary school, and is working directly with the school administration to identify families that need aid. More than 41 families of middle school students lost their homes. Many are still living in tents in campgrounds. Gift cards for food, gas and other essentials are still needed and will be needed for quite some time, as it is going to take time to sort out their lives. Even if their home was not lost, income from work was lost for three weeks or more, and the job market in the area will be not be stable for some time.

Rebuilding is going to be a long process as well. Before it can even begin, there is a massive amount of clean up to do. The county is contracting for removal of debris, but, before it can be moved, it has to be tested for asbestos and lead. If present, the waste has to be removed by a special contractor and disposed of in a hazardous waste facility. With over 1,200 homes and multi-family dwellings to deal with, it will take time. As I mentioned, these people are still living in tents in campgrounds as they seek more substantial housing. Finding affordable rentals is not easy, and some who qualify for FEMA trailers are waiting for word on how, where and when the trailers may become available. The Sr. Warden and other leaders at St. John’s are trying to stay informed of the most current information about the housing situation as it unfolds. They will be attending meetings in Lakeport that are being held to inform non-profits, as well as potential recipients of aid, about next steps (FEMA and county).

Many factors will affect the redevelopment and rebuilding in Lake County. Among them are clean up progress and process, insurance claims, deciding whether to rebuild or relocate, finding work, etc. Right now, the most effective way to respond, support and help is still to provide gift cards, or money to buy cards. St. John’s is using the contacts and relationships formed during their work at the evacuation shelters to stay in touch with people, and continue to provide them the aid they need. The connections that have been made through the schools are also developing into relationships that will enable future assistance to be real and meaningful for people who do not have insurance or work.

Eventually there will be the need for the bigger, physical project assistance, but it is too early for that now. There are many possible ideas for congregations to assist, and even to develop relationships with families or individuals as the recovery continues. As needs are made known, the Episcopalians in Lake County will share those needs with the diocese. For those of us who want to jump right in and send teams to fix and build, understand that the time is not now, but there will be big work to do in a few months and for a long time after. I can report that there is new, green growth poking through the scorched earth in Lake County. There is hope for rebirth and regrowth. Please keep praying for Lake County.


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