Two Sonoma Valley sisters give fire survivors meals, donations and more
When the North Bay wildfires broke out in 2017, sisters Angie and Sandy Sanchez sprang into action.
As managers at La Luz Center in Sonoma Valley, they’ve barely slowed down in the nearly two years since the devastating fires. From providing meals, information and reassurance during the first few weeks to managing a mountain of donated items, dispersing $1.2 million in funding, and establishing programming in the aftermath, the sisters have been integral in helping fire survivors.
In the two weeks following the fires, 270 meals were served each day at La Luz Center’s Booker Hall.
“It was really like the Angie and Sandy show,” said Juan Hernandez, the center’s executive director.
The women, he said, divvied emergency operations, with Angie overseeing meals, volunteers and donations of food, clothing, breathing masks and personal items. Sandy coordinated intake procedures to assess immediate and long-term needs.
More than 400 Sonoma Valley homes were destroyed in the firestorm.
The women worked tirelessly on relief and recovery efforts. And they are continuing to do so into the resiliency phase - strengthening the community and helping clients overcome the trauma and losses.
The Sanchez sisters assist a sensitive population of the valley, including undocumented Latinos ineligible for federal relief aid, and people with limited English skills and food, housing and financial insecurity. Some distrust government officials, fearful that immigration agents could deport them.
“We already knew our families are resilient,” said Sandy, 27, the center’s family services program manager. Now a Santa Rosa resident, she lived in Sonoma Valley when the firestorms hit.
Graduates of Sonoma Valley High School, both sisters are bilingual.
Many of their clients at La Luz are vineyard workers and those who work in housekeeping, landscaping or as day laborers or in food service. Many lost jobs permanently or temporarily when the fires raged during the wine harvest and peak tourism season. Others lost homes or were displaced by evacuation orders or power outages. Some lost perishable food purchased on tight budgets.
The sisters and other key La Luz Center staffers met with county officials just after the fires started, developing an emergency action plan carried out by Angie and Sandy.
“We were like a partnership,” said Angie, 32, the center’s community engagement manager and a resident of Agua Caliente, just a few miles from her job in Boyes Hot Springs.
“(La Luz) became a community hub,” she said. “It was a safe place to be.”
Despite their losses, fire survivors “were super humble. They were not asking for anything,” Angie added. “They were so happy to be alive and have a warm meal.”
The sisters were touched by the generosity of donors and the gratitude of the recipients.
“The donations and food just poured in,” Sandy said. “It was great. Those two weeks were crazy.”
La Luz opened a distribution site in a local shopping center, where the community could access the countless donations. She recalls her email flooded with offers of help.
“People were reaching out,” Angie said. “Gift cards, diapers, clothing, you name it. Toilet paper, all that stuff.”
Today, La Luz Center continues serving those impacted by the fires. Before the firestorms, it had a full-time staff of nine; it now has 22 full- and part-time employees.
Angie was preparing for midterms at Sacramento State University when the fires started, just two classes shy of her bachelor’s degree. She was juggling work, college and motherhood - she has a 13-year-old daughter, Natalia - but barely questioned her decision to put college on hold to focus on the disaster in her hometown. She plans to complete her degree in the fall.
The sisters are passionate about their work with La Luz Center. The nonprofit was founded in 1985 to help a largely transient population of seasonal workers. It has shifted into a community resource, mainly serving Latinos in Sonoma Valley, including families with solid roots in the area.
When Angie and Sandy were young girls, their family received help from La Luz Center. They said their parents arrived in the United States from Mexico in the mid-1970s as undocumented immigrants.
Angie is the oldest of seven children, all born in Sonoma. They learned from their parents to give back to the community. Their parents volunteered at La Luz Center, as did Sandy and Angie during their youth. Sandy also served as an intern there when she was earning her bachelor’s degree at Sonoma State University.
“This was the organization that originally helped them, and now it was coming full circle,” Hernandez said. “They were here leading the effort.”