Latino Community Foundation Springs into Action to Help Vulnerable Sonoma County Latinos Bounce Back from Wildfire

norcal wildfire relief BELatina

Responding to the short- and long-term threats of the wildfires tearing through Sonoma Country, the Latino Community Foundation, a regional non-profit, has activated The NorCal Wildfire Relief Fund to help serve Latino communities affected by the disaster. Partnering with Nuestra Comunidad and Corazón Healdsburg, the relief fund will provide emergency resources to families displaced by the fires, as well as assistance with finding housing, financial aid, and resource referrals. Funds are also used to engage the community through civic action in order to address structural issues that put Latinos at risk, including issues like the lack of affordable housing that can exacerbate the challenge of displacement.

Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of LCF, released a statement over the weekend highlighting the vulnerability of the Latino community, who make up a large proportion of vineyard workers in the region — upwards of 70 percent, a figure that includes immigrants from non-Latin American countries as well. ”The Kincade Fire has hit during harvest season in Wine Country — a critical time for our farmworker communities,” said Garcel. “The fire is displacing these hard-working families and destroying homes and jobs. Several of our community partners are working overnight to shelter these families who have nowhere else to turn. We want to do everything in our power to support them and remind them that they are not alone.”

That sense of isolation during natural disasters is real for Latinos living and working in the Sonoma Valley. During the devastating Tubbs Fire in 2017, there was little to no emergency alert information available in Spanish. Hugo Mata, a radio show host, told PRI that as soon as his regular program went live on a local bilingual radio station, he began to receive calls from people who were looking for information on the fires. “So everything that I had ready for the show was completely changed, and we opened the mics,” he said. The only channel that had been offering 24/7 information on the fires was presenting the information in English only, which left some Latino families scrambling to evacuate. “Some callers said that they only had like two or three minutes to react because there was no time for them to gather anything. So it was almost immediate. A lot of people lost their houses and they didn’t take anything with them.”

This time around, Latino leadership in the community knows how proactive they need to be to reach the Spanish-speaking community with life-saving information. Juan Valencia, a sergeant, and public information officer for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, told a local news station that he has been tweeting out evacuation orders in Spanish as well as English. We got a lot of feedback after the Tubbs Fire that we werent providing enough information in Spanish. We always want to look ahead and be engaged in the community,” he said. The son of immigrants, his decision to deliver updates in Spanish was a personal one, too. “I just thought about my parents,” he added. “I wanted my parents to get crucial updates from me.”

With 2,000 Geyserville residents under mandatory evacuation orders, some of whom have lost their homes, LCF has already sprung into action to help serve its community. To donate to the NorCal Wildfire Relief Fund, visit the LCF fundraiser page.