Corazon Healdsburg received a call on Oct. 23, the first night of the Kincade Fire, that the Healdsburg Community Center — where they have their facility — was going to become an emergency evacuation shelter.
Since then the local nonprofit has been helping community members affected by the blaze.
“We knew that when we came into work that we’d be coming into a very different situation than normal course of business on Thursday morning,” Corazon CEO Ariel Kelley said.
Kelley said the group immediately staffed up with extra volunteers in order to be ready for evacuees.
“We knew that, especially because Geyserville was the first town to be impacted and there are a lot of Spanish speakers in the community, we would need to provide a lot of translation support for those who were coming into the shelter and do additional outreach so people knew that this was a safe place for people to come,” Kelley said.
The next day, Oct. 24, Corazon established its Unity and Community Fund with the goal of raising $350,000 for services to help those affected by the fire.
Now, on Oct. 4 more than a week after the fire started, a throng of people were lined up at the Local Assistance Center where Corazon has distributed a total of $110,000 in fire relief for individuals in need of food gift cards, baby necessities and more.
The recovery fund has raised a total of $280,000 as of press time. All of the funds raised go toward people in need, there is no overhead, Kelley explained.
“We are providing gas cards, grocery gift cards, groceries through the Redwood Empire Foodbank, baby supplies, as well as emergency financial assistance. We also provided hotel rooms for about 150 families during the fires, mostly for families who had specific needs where they couldn’t spend a night in the shelters,” Kelley said.
So far Corazon has already done 5,000 intake applications for recovery.
“We were onsite at nine different locations during the evacuation so we had people in all of the shelters doing intake applications,” Kelley said. “Once we receive an application we review it to see what type of need there is and if they meet our criteria.”
Kelley added that Corazon is prioritizing those who lost their homes, or lost their place of work. They’re also prioritizing those who live in Northern Sonoma County and families with kids.
She also emphasized that help from Corazon is available to everyone.
“Because most of the clients that we serve are Latino, a number of people have reached out privately to me or through our Facebook page and have said, ‘Hey, I’m not Latino but can I still get help?’ and the answer is absolutely yes. We want everyone to know that our organization is for everyone,” Kelley said.
In addition to the Unity and Community fund, Corazon has partnered with California Human Development, a nonprofit that typically provides job training, affordable housing resources and immigration and disability services. In an emergency, they can also provide aid to farmworkers.
There are other resources available at the assistance center, from mental health services, emotional support dogs, to booths where you can get a new Social Security card or driver’s license.
Kelley explained while walking through the crowd that those waiting in line will first visit a triage desk where staff can direct them where to go depending on their needs.
Mobile centers for insurance companies like AAA, JP Travelers and State Farm are also available on site for those who need information or need to file a claim.
Despite a long road of recovery ahead, Kelley said, “There is such a strong sense of community that really binds us together and just a genuine desire to help neighbors that is so special to this community that makes us so much more resilient than other places.
“I know from living in other places in the past. There are some places where it feels like every man for themself and when an emergency happens everyone hunkers down. But here when an emergency happens, people immediately start to reach out to each other.”