Relief agencies in Sonoma County prefer donors give gift cards, monetary donations

The volunteers who’ve enlisted in Danny Chaparro's Street Soldier: Be the Change mission. (Courtesy photo)


Many people are eager to give to neighbors who’ve been burned out or displaced by the fires, but there’s only so much clothing and water and drugstore merchandise and food and such that relief agencies can handle.

Several nonprofits actively assisting fire victims and evacuees say they would prefer monetary contributions to donations of tangibles.

Capt. Rio Ray of the Santa Rosa Corps of the Salvation Army asked that if potential donors don’t care to write a check or make a cash or credit card donation, they consider purchasing and donating gift cards.

“We can give gift cards to individuals and fill their exact needs,” he said.

The Santa Rosa Fire Department continues to receive donated goods, and it, too, requests gift cards that can be distributed to adults and children who’ve been left homeless or in other ways impacted by the fires.

Red Cross officials and volunteers in Sonoma County are passing donations of goods to other human service nonprofits, and are requesting that supporters of their disaster-relief mission send checks to American Red Cross California Northwest, 5297 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa 95403.

At the Redwood Empire Food Bank, spokeswoman Maggie Sowell said, “A financial donation via our website is what we would most prefer.”

Such contributions “allow the REFB to increase the amount of food we provide to our community,” Sowell said.

She added that the food bank is happy also to receive nonperishable, nutritious foods for delivery to people who struggle following the fires to feed themselves and their families.

Among the preferred groceries, Sowell said, are microwave oatmeal, granola and granola bars, trail mix, jerky, pureed vegetables for toddlers, soups and stews in cans with pull tabs, fruit cups and Ensure for seniors and children.

The food bank is continuing its Station 3990 food distribution, a drive-through giveaway at its home at 3990 Brickway Blvd., off Airport Boulevard north of Santa Rosa.

That distribution of nonperishable foods, free produce and staples will continue, “as long as the need exists and funding is available,” Sowell said.

A new, grass-roots relief center has been opened in Santa Rosa by young people who were disappointed when they collected clothing and other items, only to be told that evacuation centers were overstocked and could not accept them.

But on Monday, Danny Chaparro and the volunteers who’ve enlisted in his Street Soldier: Be the Change mission found that they, too, must be highly selective to avoid taking in more donated items than they can handle.

Chaparro and his crew have filled a gym at the Epicenter sports and entertainment complex with foods, clothing, shoes, baby items, blankets, pet food, personal hygiene, lip balm, small tissue packs and health items, school supplies and other necessities and comfort items.

A handwritten sign on the Epicenter doors reads, “No More Clothes Donations Please.” A second sign welcomes donations only of school supplies, men’s socks and instant coffee.

Chaparro, 25, founded Street Soldiers shortly before the fires of eight days ago to act as role models in encouraging young people to respect others and to peacefully protect their community.

Chaparro, who works as a case manager for at-risk youth and plays soccer at the Epicenter, said that among the volunteers helping him to collect and distribute goods and supplies to families in need are teachers, fellow soccer players, “alleged gang members” and employees of nonprofits.

Families who struggle after the fires are welcome to come into Epicenter from noon to 5 p.m. and pick up things they need, Chaparro said.

He said he doesn’t like to turn away anyone who seeks to donate items, but at this point he and the other volunteers can accept only what they think they can give away.