October 01, 2020 | by JB Brayfindley
“No longer have fires been limited to the Great Northern or Los Rios districts--every district has been hit,” stated Sonja Edd-Bennett, director of CNUMC Disaster Response Ministry, who is monitoring fires throughout the conference. “…and, the fires have not waited for COVID-19 to go away.”
Recently, Edd-Bennett deployed the Early Response Team (ERT) members to Santa Cruz County to support survivors of the CZM Lightening Complex Fires. Local church volunteers have also joined the effort. The team is one of three non-governmental organizations providing direct assistance.
“Our initial role was to staff a table at the Response Recovery Center (RRC) in Santa Cruz,” said Steve Elliot who works on the team. “We handed out hygiene kits and gift cards to help with immediate needs. But our main focus was to offer Fire Buckets—cleaning supplies and tools to residents who lost their home or needed to clean up smoke damage.”
The team gave out more than 400 hygiene kits as well as various cleaning supplies. The crew awaits a shipment of 500 more from the United Methodist Committee on Relief storehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah. But shipment has been delayed due to a weeklong power outage at that warehouse.
Fire buckets are in high demand and difficult to get. The team has received donations from Asbury UMC, Lynwood UMC, San Ramon Valley and Santa Cruz UMC. Buckets include protective clothing—which, due to COVID-19 is more expensive and in high demand.
“In addition to assisting several hundred victims at the RRC, our ERT personnel helped with sifting ashes,” said Elliot. “We looked for valuables or keepsakes that might have survived. It is a sad and depressing process, emotionally challenging for the victims… and for us. Certainly, it is not a moment of closure. It is a part of starting down the road to recovery. The shock is overwhelming. So, our role is as much offering a caring presence as it is the dirty work of shifting ashes.”
Cal Fire figures show a total of 1,490 structures destroyed in the CZU Lightening Fire in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and of that, 931 were listed as residential. Edd-Bennett explained that out buildings and other structures such as trailers might also be residential but are not considered as residential in these statistics yet.
“Of the biggest concern is the people who live off the grid,” explained Edd-Bennett. “Those individuals and families have no access to FEMA or county resources if they lose their home—that’s where homelessness is at the highest risk!”
Edd-Bennett is continuing to look at other areas of concern and is connecting with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) partners to find out where they are needed and how to help.
“People are involved in different ways,” said Edd-Bennett. The Response webpage lists a variety of ways individuals and churches can be part of the solution. “We appreciate local churches stepping in and providing support.”
Pray for all those whose lives have been impacted by these fires, including firefighters, relief workers, and those who are survivors of previous fires
Cash is the most flexible and manageable way to donate to response and recovery. Consider donating cash through California Nevada Annual Conference Disaster Fund and UMCOR Advance # 901670.
Relief Supply Kits
We are collecting hygiene kits, school kits and fire buckets/cleaning buckets to help those affected. We will house these kits at the conference office and distribute as requests come in. Contact us if you are interested in assembling these relief supply kits.
If you feel a call to give of your time and talent, please do so through an organized group. Unrequested and/or unsupervised volunteers can be more of a challenge than a help! Contact your local Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team or other groups from the church; consider joining in with a community partner such as the American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about volunteering during a disaster.
If you would like to sign up with the Conference Disaster Response office to be contacted if specific volunteer opportunities arise click here to register.
There is no time like the present to prepare for the future! We are hosting a variety of virtual trainings across the Annual Conference. To attend or request a training for your church, community or circuit contact us.
Editor's Note: California-Nevada Director of Disaster Response Sonja Edd- Bennett is your point person for information and assistance and she has been especially busy this early fire season. She is working with those coordinating efforts on the ground in each of the currently affected areas and has some tips for how we all can help support our brothers and sisters in harm's way. Any information or request for assistance related to the fires in your area should be communicated to your District Superintendent and the Disaster Response Ministry at email@example.com.