By the second full day of last October’s fire, Senses Wine co-founder Chris Strieter was asking, “How can we help –– what can we do?”
“We thought maybe we could do an event, we could fundraise, donate some money, donate some time, see where people needed help,” he said.
Soon Strieter realized that the wine industry was eager to get behind a major relief effort, so he and his co-workers at the Occidental-based winery created Rebuild Wine Country (rebuildwinecountry.org).
Using social media and other digital assets, the new nonprofit found a way to channel that outpouring of support into financing for new home construction.
To date, the group has raised more than $1 million for Habitat for Humanity, he said, with a goal of raising $5 million to build homes for fire survivors that can be reused as affordable housing.
The first five to eight homes are slated to be built in February and March, with people flying in from across the country to help with the construction.
“Not only do they fly in at their own expense, they also chip in up to $5,000 and their time,” said Strieter. “It’s not just professionals. Anyone who wants to help, there’s going to be something that could be done.”
Fundraising is continuing with events such as the 5k Run to Rebuild Wine Country (runtorebuildwinecountry.org) on March 11 at Napa Valley College in St. Helena.
The nonprofit came together when Strieter reached out to his childhood friend, Algeo Ché Casul, the volunteer and community development manager for Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County.
Though the Habitat office on Piner Road in Santa Rosa was “basically shut down” during the first days of the fires, Strieter worked with Casul to set up a tax-deductible fund.
Part of Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to respond to disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, so when Strieter asked what was most needed to help the North Bay rebuilding efforts, Casul had one word, money.
“He said, ‘Chris, why don’t you guys raise money and help us rebuild homes, and we can help throughout all of wine country through our local affiliates.’” That became the organization’s number one focus.
Chelsea Boss, general manager of Senses Wine, said they began to see bigger needs than those being addressed by some of the well-funded and well-executed community fundraising efforts.
“We wanted to have a long-term impact,” Boss said, “so when Chris made the connection with Ché, he thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this solves all of our problems.’ They are going to be rebuilding homes. That’s long term impact, and they can give money to multiple chapters affecting the entire wine country.”
John Kennedy, board chair for Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County, said Rebuild Wine Country has been instrumental in getting the word out about Habitat’s effort to help the North Bay regenerate its housing stock.
All the funds coming from Rebuild Wine Country are allocated for housing “fire survivors” in “Sonoma cottages” similar to the “Katrina cottages” built for refugees of the 2005 hurricane that inundated New Orleans.
That year, Habitat built temporary homes of 500 to 800 square feet on “skids” or large sleds that could be relocated to wherever they were needed. Some were placed on public lands while their occupants rebuilt their homes.
To learn more about or to contribute to rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County, visit the websites of these organizations:
Rebuild Wine Country: rebuildwinecountry.org
Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County: habitatsoco.org
Sonoma Fire Survivors Tiny Home Challenge: youcaring.com/habitatforhumanityofsonomacounty-1038154
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