Eyes raised to the plane overhead, I feel a jolt of anxiety hum through my body. These smoky skies, droning propellers, and distant flames are all too familiar. My home lies beneath the CalFire flight path for the Mendocino Complex Fires, which began a week ago, and the burr of air traffic both incites and soothes my frazzled nerves. Knowing we are receiving help from near and far calms my fears, but the dark plumes rising from our hillsides leads me to reflect on the hundreds of families who lost homes in the October fires. I can feel the collective anxiety rising in our community amidst blackouts and smoky skies. How can we be here again so soon? How will we ever recover?
Thankfully, the work that the Community Foundation has been able to do as stewards of the Disaster Fund and chair of Mendocino-ROC, the long-term recovery committee, has provided an answer to the latter question. We will recover one step at a time - one donation at a time, one grant at a time - to help fire survivors rebuild their lives.
On the eve of these new fires we celebrated the granting of $385,341 for long-term housing to families that lost everything in the October fires. By giving back we are creating pathways to recovery for the fire survivors, while developing a system to provide future support in the face of a new disaster.
The Mendocino-ROC Housing Assistance Program, provides funds (in the form of grants) to survivors to secure long-term housing. These grants can include down payment assistance, building materials, or gap funding. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements has been our ability to leverage Disaster Fund dollars with community partners to stretch our resources further. To date, the Disaster Fund has contributed $243,600 in long-term housing assistance, with an additional $141,741 contributed by North Coast Opportunities (NCO), South Ukiah Rotary, and the United Way of the Wine Country.
For the cost of less than a single home, we have supported 16 households in returning home. These include 21 adults, 15 children, 15 seniors, and four disabled people. The money they have received is being used to secure four manufactured homes, six Hope City volunteer-built homes, building supplies to rebuild four homes, and assisting one renter family in becoming homeowners by providing down-payment assistance.
There is a significant learning curve to finding the best pathways to support fire survivors, understanding what resources exist, and defining criteria that allow us to maximize the impact of our funds. These grants are an exciting milestone in demonstrating our systems are in place and working to support recovery and rebuilding in the community. We celebrate these successes, even as we keep an eye towards the great effort that still lies ahead.
Our ability to help fire survivors is rooted in our generosity as individuals and as a community. A new wave of Disaster Fund donations is already rolling in, and with the demonstrated success of our recovery infrastructure, made up of volunteers and workers from near and far, we know those dollars can reach fire survivors most in need. Survivors from the Redwood Complex Fire face re-traumatization, while those impacted by the current fires await news. Our work continues, and the generosity of donors makes our efforts possible. As for those droning propellers buzzing into the gathering smoke, we know help is on the way.
With this thought I release the anxiety winding through my limbs, and instead focus on the relief that comes with the knowledge that we are embraced by neighbors throughout the nation in our recovery efforts now and in the future.