By Christine Loewe
As the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burns for the tenth day, more than 2,000 community members have stepped up as volunteers and registered to help through the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County.
Volunteers are being mobilized to help with critical needs including supporting evacuees at the evacuation shelters, providing mental health counseling, sorting and disseminating donations at the donation relief centers, providing over the phone assistance to new volunteers, and helping local emergency operations teams with data entry.
“We are currently working with volunteers to cover 1,000 shifts a day throughout the county. While it has been truly heartbreaking to watch the devastation unfold over the last week, we are uplifted by the generous spirit of our community,” said Volunteer Center Executive Director Karen Delaney. “Time and again, in my nearly 40 year career of working with the Volunteer Center, I’ve observed this incredible willingness to step up for fellow neighbors even in the worst of times, and this experience has been no different.”
With nearly 1/3 of their own staff evacuated, staff members from the Volunteer Center have been working long hours to ensure the foundations are in place to safely connect volunteers where they are needed most.
“Our top priority, particularly with the concerns around the pandemic, is community safety,” Delaney said. “We are providing training for our volunteer leads to ensure that as volunteers arrive they have the right information in hand and we are working closely with our emergencies service partners to ensure that critical priorities are being met each day.”
Community members who are interested in being volunteers are encouraged to visit the Volunteer Center website at scvolunteercenter.org to register in advance. Those who prefer to register by phone can do so Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 831-427-5070.
More volunteers are needed to sustain services over the next week.
“This registration process is important because it allows us to identify where we have gaps in volunteer needs,” Delaney said. “When folks register we can ensure that we are not over or underserving one location over another,.”
All registered volunteers are insured and should the need arise, registration allows for appropriate contract tracing in partnership with the Santa Cruz County Health Department.
“One of the critical elements in disasters of this nature is our ability to document and provide an accurate picture of the scope of need,” Delaney suid. “By effectively tracking the number of people engaged in the response effort, our community will be better placed to receive matching FEMA funds to rebuild our community. We have a long road ahead of us, while we are currently focused on meeting immediate needs, our community will also have to manage the longer range needs of those struggling through the aftermath of the fires. Volunteers will be needed every step of the way and therefore the structure we put in place now will allow us to sustain the effort over time.”
Bridget Smith, 27, is one volunteer who has worked long hours at the Emeline Donation Center over the last several days.
“I am 4th generation Santa Cruzan and this is my home. I know quite a few people who have lost everything,” states Smith.
After observing the first 48 hours of fire growth, she decided she needed to do something and decided to volunteer.
“I have never volunteered before,” she said. “I arrived several days ago and have been here ever since…. doing what I can for our community. It feels good to help and not just sit home and panic and wonder what can I do. I will be here every day until I fall over.”
Santa Cruz resident, Tori McBride, 24, also felt the call.
“I’ve grown up in this community. We’ve never had a disaster like this affect so many people, and I just wanted to be able to help out and get involved,” she said. “I’ve been working specifically with the evacuees…It is not an easy thing…. I feel for them,” states McBride.
In the time that McBride has been at the donation center she has had the opportunity to see the clear impact of the connections made through volunteering. “It really shows our community, it’s kind of like a sense of family when something like this happens.”
To learn how to join the volunteers, access resources, or donate to support the effort visit: scvolunteercenter.org/events-2/lightning-fire-2020/
Ways to Volunteer:
- View Fire Related Volunteer Opportunities and Register: www.scvolunteernow.org/special-event/a0M4T000000YzayUAC
- Sign up for shift at the one of the Donation Centers: www.scvolunteernow.org/opportunity/a0C4T000000TGPwUAO
- Stay informed as new volunteer opportunities arise: www.scvolunteernow.org/opportunity/a0C4T000000TGNyUAO