Tens of millions of dollars have been donated in recent weeks to assist residents affected by last month’s deadly North Bay wildfires, but the outpouring has left some survivors of the disaster seeking greater clarity about how the relief money will be distributed.
Jil Child reached out for assistance after the Tubbs fire destroyed her Fountaingrove home in the Vintage Woods development behind Sweet T’s restaurant. She said she got $1,000 from the North Bay Fire Relief fund, spearheaded by the Redwood Credit Union, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and The Press Democrat. While it was double the amount she received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Child, 54, said it far from covered the cost of replacing clothing, furniture and other necessities she lost in the fire, forcing her to further deplete her savings. Many friends have had to do the same after losing their homes.
“We’ve seen very little money that’s out there,” Child said. “$1,500 doesn’t even replace a computer.”
She attempted to seek additional donations after she heard about the $17 million raised through the Band Together Bay Area concert earlier this month at AT&T Park. She ultimately was referred back to the North Bay Fire Relief fund, which received some of the concert proceeds but doesn’t allow victims to apply for assistance more than once.
It’s frustrating not knowing where the larger pool donations for various different agencies and groups are going or how to access them, Child said.
“It just makes us sick when we hear another figure they’ve raised when we’ve seen very little,” she said.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin said she’s heard similar frustrations from residents on social media. While there’s no gatekeeper overseeing all the donations, she said nonprofits and organizations are starting to come together to get a clearer picture of how much money is rolling in and how it’s been handed out.
“Accountability and transparency will be important,” said Gorin, who along with Supervisor Lynda Hopkins was assigned to work with the city of Santa Rosa to track the funds. “We want to make sure the folks who are entitled to the assistance and need the assistance receive the assistance.”
The Community Foundation Sonoma County will hold a meeting Tuesday with major fundraisers to talk about the donations received and strategies on how and when the money is distributed, said Elizabeth Brown, the organization’s president and CEO. They’ll also discuss future community needs.
Her foundation so far has raised $8 million for fire victims, but it’s planning to use the money to address more long-term needs rather than provide immediate cash relief. Brown said the money will be distributed to nonprofits who already are stretched thin serving fire victims.
“We’re giving ourselves some time to listen and to learn and to leverage our fund so that we can maximize each charitable dollar,” she said.
The North Bay Fire Relief fund is considered the largest fund dedicated to the immediate assistance of fire victims. Nearly $14 million, or 60 percent of the $23 million raised, already has been committed to help thousands of fire victims in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.
“It sounds like a lot of money until you break it up in four counties,” said Brett Martinez, Redwood Credit Union CEO and president.