‘They’re hurting’: Russian River flood victims need immediate financial help
While handing out at the Guerneville Safeway store $50 grocery gift cards to residents affected by last week's flood, Jeniffer Wertz was forced to turn away several people Sunday after running out of cards.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Wertz, a volunteer for the nonprofit Russian River Alliance.
For people whose homes, cars or businesses were damaged by the worst flooding along the Russian River in two decades, local nonprofit leaders say, the need for financial help is immediate. Some are raising money to provide relief after the flood impacted nearly 600 businesses and 1,900 homes countywide and caused an estimated $155 million in damages.
“The need in the community is tremendous right now. We have people who have lost everything and can't afford to buy their own groceries,” County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. “They have no income. And they're hurting, so we're trying to cover basic necessities at this point.”
Wertz, who has been using social media to reach out to flood victims in need of groceries, was back at Safeway Tuesday with more store gift cards to give away, bought in part through a $500 donation from Hopkins.
“That's the kind of person she is. She cares about us, and we feel it,” Wertz said.
Hopkins and state Sen. Mike McGuire led efforts over the weekend to solicit donations for flood victims, which were matched by the Redwood Credit Union community fund. Between donations and the match, $50,000 was raised by Tuesday, according to Cynthia Negri, chief operating officer.
“Every single dollar will go directly out, there's absolutely no overhead cost,” Negri said. The credit union will cover costs incurred, she said.
The donations will go out within about a month in the form of gift cards to help schoolchildren impacted by the floods and river clean up, Negri said. The children won't have to apply and their names will be provided to the foundation through community partners.
“We want to do it as fast as we can,” Negri said. The credit union also is offering members impacted by the floods zero-interest loans for up to $5,000, she added.
The United Way of the Wine Country also launched a flood recovery fund on Monday. It had raised $100 as of Tuesday, according to Rusty Smith, vice president of resource development and marketing.
United Way is still determining which nonprofits it will work with to distribute the money, although it'll likely partner with local organizations, Smith said. Donations will be assessed over the next two weeks.
“Depending on what process these agencies use for distribution. … we think it would be a minimum of one month from now before the funds are distributed to community members,” Smith wrote in an email.
They're going to be distributing the money through other nonprofits, Smith said.
West County Community Services, a Guerneville-based nonprofit, had three facilities damaged, including two behavioral health sites and the community service office at the Park Village mobile home park.
“We're relocating these services into makeshift sites,” said Tim Miller, executive director of West County Community Services.
A fundraiser for West County Community Services will be held Friday evening at the Horse & Plow Winery in Sebastopol. The event will feature food, live music and a silent auction.
Evan Wiig, a founder of the Farmers Guild, is organizing the fundraiser. He organized a similar event during the October 2017 wildfires, raising $350,000 for fire survivors.
“Everyone just came up from the woodwork and asked what can I do to help,” Wiig said. “It was kind of an unexpected success.”
A portion of the money raised at Friday's event will go toward workers who lost their jobs after the floods. Wiig said he's still in the process of organizing how the money will be distributed.
He recommended people bring their checkbooks and carpool to Friday's fundraiser.
Also accepting donations for its flood victims is the West County Health Centers, which has seven locations and serves about 13,000 patients.
About 1,800 patients lived in the flood-impacted areas, according to Mary Szecsey, executive director. The nonprofit's staff are calling patients to check in on their medical and counseling needs.
West County Health Centers has a fund set up for patients who express financial hardships to their provider, who then fill out paperwork for their clients to receive gift cards or transportation vouchers. There's no overhead cost for the fund, Szecsey said.
“We're definitely doing as much as we can to help people,” Szecsey said.
You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or email@example.com. On Twitter @susanmini.