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By Neal Fishman, SCCA Board President 12/2/17

In a matter of a week, over 15,000 family, friends and neighbors lost their homes to the largest wildfires in California history. And now, six weeks later, the second wave of impacts are hitting.

While fire survivors navigate a complex bureaucracy that regulates rebuilding, renters are displaced daily as rent prices soar in an already compromised housing market. Every day, Sonoma County Conservation Action takes regular calls from fire survivors who need help to mitigate toxic runoff and erosion around their property. Their anxiety over toxic exposure is palpable. Sadly, this disaster’s impact is not yet fully realized.

Part of Sonoma County’s beauty is the enormous amount of goodwill that springs up in the face of tragedy. As a grassroots organization built on people power, we know the capacity of our community when effectively mobilized.

But leveraging this outpouring of support requires channeling it, and quickly. So far, donated goods have sat in storage as families scrambled daily for basic necessities. Without effective needs management systems in place, these resources would be lost.

To bridge this clear gap, SCCA spear- headed the launch of Sonoma- This is a locally- managed, people-powered disaster relief platform, used across the nation in communities like ours when they face enormous devastation from hurricanes, fires or other natural disasters.

We knew that the County and survivors would need a nimble, simple and bilingual tool to keep everyone in- formed, to quickly distribute donated goods and to communicate to volunteers. We foresaw the need to match requests to resources in real-time across dozens of organizations and agencies, through a shared platform.

Kerry Fugett, our ED, contributed her database background, and combined it with our SCCA network, to help guide the energized volunteer launch team of six as we kicked off the site’s implementation. Over a week of daily conference calls and never-ending texts passed before we even met in persons.

Through the SonomaCounty.Recovers. org website, we are able to offer personal support to displaced folks. With over 50 organizations sharing this platform, we’ve collectively helped over 1,200 people, received thousands of donations, and signed up over 2,800 volunteers seeking to contribute to our local recovery efforts.

Over 25 years of grassroots organizing prepared our response to this unique and tragic disaster — we have empowered our community by connecting people to action.

Normally we are pushing them to the polls to support good candidates, or to town halls to advocate for better policy; we used that same methodology to put them in touch with their ailing neighbors, our shared watershed recovery efforts, and the community that needs their attention, skills & goodwill.

We have impressive strength as individuals, but our power when we organize and work together is astounding. This recovery support system is stronger than any of us alone, and is the first step in helping retain our community while building a network needed for bouncing back. ◊


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