It’s been 10 months since the Thomas Fire destroyed over 500 homes in Ventura. A month later, the Montecito mudslide devastated that small community. Since then, fundraisers and donations to benefit victims of the fire and mudslide have brought in millions of dollars, but still some Thomas fire victims in particular are feeling left out.
On Aug. 27, the Ventura County Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing issues, opened an application filing period for victims of the fire and mudslide to receive a $1,000 grant per household until the $65,000 grant from Wells Fargo was gone. The total grant was $75,000 but $10,000 went to administration costs for the nonprofit.
Keily Victoria, administration support manager for the corporation, and Felipe Flores, homeownership program manager, oversaw the filing application period, which, at first, didn’t have a deadline. Due to the response, the filing period closed on Aug. 31.
“Extremely overwhelmed,” Victoria said of the response when the filing application period opened. “The first 65 received via email, walk-in, etc., came in less than 24 hours; but in reality it was less [time] than that. It opened on Monday at 10 a.m. and by 6 p.m., we were at 58 applications. It is very important to note, we did not know until Aug. 31 the exact number of applications received.”
By Aug. 31, the corporation had received over 200 applications. Applicants who did not get the grant were told that their applications would be held for another round of funding in the future. Fire victims vented their frustrations on social media about how fast the money ran out and that they felt that they were being unfairly denied.
“It was never marketed as a grant we could supply everyone,” Victoria said, who noted that basic criteria for approval of the $1,000 grant included direct or indirect impact by the Thomas Fire or mudslide, a current need for funds, current residence in Ventura or Santa Barbara, one application per household, and no Ventura County Community Development Corporation staff or board or their immediate family members.
“It’s heartbreaking to see all the stories, [people] exhausted and devastated. I wish we could do so much more,” Flores said.
The United Way of Ventura County and the Ventura County Community Foundation have also played significant roles in receiving donations and doling out funds to those in need.
The United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund received a total of $4.6 million, United Way of Ventura County received $3.5 million, and United Way of Santa Barbara County received $1.1 million. United Way of Ventura County stated in an email exchange: “Thanks to the generosity of a select group of corporate and foundation funders who provided core operating support, 100 percent of the United Way Thomas Fire Fund donations go to those affected.”
For United Way of Ventura County, the funding was disbursed in several phases, three phases of particular note and the last, a long-term recovery phase, in the works.
According to United Way, Phase I prepaid cards were distributed through American Red Cross for $375,000 (no income limits). Each prepaid card was for $500 and all went to residents whose homes were destroyed by the Thomas Fire.
For Phases II and III, $710,851 has been distributed to date through United Way’s applications for individual hardship assistance and an additional $300,000 to immigrant farm and service workers affected by the fire. (Eligible applicants were Ventura County residents, and household income limits were determined by family size of 120 percent AMI or less.)
Phase III continuation distribution: $1,500 from United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund to more than 600 households with homes that were destroyed or significantly damaged, as classified by FEMA and CAL FIRE, which could potentially exceed $1 million.
The next phase will address long-term recovery needs.
United Way stated, “We will work with the Long-Term Recovery Group and their case management process to assist households who do not have adequate personal resources for basic needs because of the disaster. This includes assessment and verification of need, planning to achieve recovery goals, advocacy and connecting clients with community support. Case Management Committee members include UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), Salvation Army and Jewish Family Services. $1 million will be available for long-term recovery efforts.”
The Ventura County Community Foundation served as a network for other nonprofits, which in turn distributed funds directly to those in need.
“100 percent of funds raised have gone and will continue to go directly to our community,” Vanessa Bechtel, executive director of the foundation, wrote in an email. “Thanks to the help of our generous donors, more than $2.8 million has been awarded to our local nonprofits serving those affected by the fire and responding to urgent and mid- to long-term community needs. Approximately $1 million went out in the first three weeks of the Thomas Fire. Approximately $1.2 million of support went out to neighbors in need through the 805 UndocuFund since the start of 2018.
“Approximately $500,000 remains to be distributed (some still to be collected from pledges) from the Ventura County Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sudden & Urgent Needs Fund — contributions that were made specifically to provide aid in subsequent Thomas-related disasters and for mid- to long-term support.”
Ventura County Community Foundation awarded area nonprofits with grants as follows:
· 805 UndocuFund created at VCCF as a partnership among Ventura and Santa Barbara County organizations serving undocumented and other workers impacted by the local disasters not eligible for federal aid. One hundred percent of the funds contributed to the effort are going directly to assist families in need. With a recent, additional VCCF grant of $500,000, total funds raised for the 805 UndocuFund reached just over $1.2 million. Approximately 75 percent of families served have been agricultural workers.
· American Red Cross – Central Coast Region in the amount of $364,440, consisting of $100,000 from the Martin V. and Martha K. Smith Foundation and $264,440 from the Russell Fischer Fund for the American Red Cross.
· Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme in the amount of $7,700 to cover the increased costs of staffing so the clubs could open during school closures as a result of poor air quality.
· Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo in the amount of $6,600 to help cover the staffing and utility costs associated with six days of day camp that were provided due to school closures related to poor air quality.
· Boys & Girls Club of Moorpark in the amount of $1,000 to cover the insurance deductible associated with repairing damage to the club’s roof caused by extreme winds during the Thomas Fire.
· Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clara Valley in the amount of $8,042 to help cover costs associated with school closures during the fire, serving kids affected in Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru.
· Boys & Girls Club of Ventura in the amount of $39,300, consisting of $14,300 to help cover the increased costs for days schools were closed due to the fire and $25,000 for a program that will focus on disaster relief efforts and leadership opportunities for teens responding to the Thomas Fire.
· California-Pacific Annual Conference in the amount of $10,000 to support half the cost of the purchase of a used trailer and truck for victim of the Thomas Fire. The other half of purchase will be supported by the Salvation Army.
· Camp Noah is fiscally sponsored by California-Pacific Annual Conference, UMC, Justice & Compassion Ministries. VCCF grant in the amount of $8,500 to support the day camp program of resiliency and preparedness for kids and its presentation to 50 children who were impacted by the Thomas Fire in the Ojai and Ventura communities.
· CAUSE in the amount of $600 for masks for farmworkers.
· Center for Nonprofit Leadership at Cal Lutheran in the amount of $6,000, consisting of $2,500 to cover the costs of convening nonprofit organizations during the recovery period and $3,500 to cover the costs of an expert speaker to teach community organizations how to fundraise in times of disaster.
· Channel Islands YMCA – Ventura in the amount $5,000 for facility memberships, gift cards and child-care program costs for families who lost their homes, consisting of $3,000 from the E. Natalie Shaw Charitable Fund and $2,000 from the Darcie and Nicholas Thille Charitable Gift Fund.
· Economic Development Collaborative in the amount of $5,000 for project management and oversight of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).
· FOODShare in the amount of $10,000 for transportation and food sorting for shelters and for administrative support, consisting of $5,000 from the Paul and Anne Leavens Family Fund, $3,097 from the Virginia Faria Baptiste/Faria Family Fund and $1,903 from the Lydia T. and Joseph Brown Fund.
· Habitat for Humanity in the amount of $55,000 for housing assistance and repairs for those affected by the fire.
· Ojai Relief Efforts in the amount of $20,000 from the Wilson Family Fund for basic needs of Ojai families in crisis due to the fire.
· Humane Society of Ventura County in the amount of $67,568 to cover vet bills and staff supplies as a result of the Thomas Fire, consisting of $60,000 from the Joseph and Reva Perata Fund, $5,568 from the E. Natalie Shaw Charitable Fund and $2,000 from the Darcie and Nicholas Thille Charitable Gift Fund.
· Interface in the amount of $227,000, consisting of $60,000 from the E. Wright Daily Fund to support the emergency 2-1-1 call center, $24,792 from the Gerhard Family Fund and $5,208 from the Lydia T. and Joseph Brown Fund for the purchase of a backup generator for 2-1-1, and $50,000 from the Ventura County Community Disaster Relief Fund to translate the 2-1-1 Ventura County Database into Spanish to assure equal access to emergency information and health and human services resources when the next disaster strikes. Additional awards were recently granted in the amounts of $35,000 to help provide support of two additional full-time dedicated Thomas Fire Recovery Specialists from mid-October through Dec. 31, 2018; $25,000 to cover expenses for 211 operations to carry out the additional activities such as assisting fire victims entering their data into the Coordinated Assistance Network (CAN) during the long-term recovery efforts; and $27,000 to support the cost of a facilitator for the Ventura County Thomas Fire Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG).
· MICOP in the amount of $10,000, consisting of $5,000 from the Armand and Gabrielle Dupuis Fund for radio antenna replacement and another $1,956 for health outreach for farmworkers. In addition, $3,044 from the Ruth Daily Livingston Fund for health outreach for farmworkers.
· National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in the amount of $65,000 for dog boarding expenses and clean-up efforts from the Thomas Fire, consisting of $60,000 from the Joseph and Reva Perata Fund and $5,000 from the E. Natalie Shaw Charitable Fund.
· Rubicon Theatre in the amount of $6,756 from the Wilson Family Fund to cover the costs of mandatory cleaning in response to the Thomas Fire.
· Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center in the amount of $7,200 to cover boarding fees, overtime pay, mileage, transportation costs and adoption fees as a result of the fire.
· The Salvation Army in the amount of $181,388 for basic services and emergency relief for families who have lost homes, consisting of $160,388 from the Russell Fischer Fund for the Salvation Army, $14,629 from the Virginia Faria Baptiste/Faria Family Fund, and $6,371 from the Ernest D. Baptiste/Faria Family Fund.
· Thomasfirehelp.org in the amount of $25,500, consisting of $3,000 for technology design, development and server space that helped link needs with resources for those affected by the fire and $10,000 for additional operating support. Over 50,000 individuals were served by this service during the disaster period. More recently, an additional $12,500 was awarded to continue and expand their recovery efforts, specifically the role of an official hub for unmet needs of disaster survivors; connecting individuals with needs to resource“es already collected, and organizing community partners to meet emerging needs.
· United Way of Ventura County in the amount of $15,558 for the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund, consisting of $10,558 from the Rotary Relief Fund and $5,000 from the Brokaw Family Fund.
· Ventura Botanical Garden in the amount of $5,000 for the partial cost of Earthguard to protect against erosion.
· Ventura College Foundation in the amount of $4,950 for support of single parents who were victims of the Thomas Fire.
· Ventura County Community College District in the amount of $35,000 for the research for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This document is required for accessing aid for recovery and resilience and will help our community better recover from the shock of the Thomas Fire by permitting investment from the Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
As for the Ventura County Community Development Corporation, Flores said that the nonprofit will report how the disbursement of funds went to the donor, Wells Fargo, and will be seeking more for the future.
For more information: Ventura County Community Development Corporation, contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org; for United Way of Ventura County, contact 2-1-1; for Ventura County Community Foundation, contact 805-988-0196 or email@example.com.