What to Know
- $32 million collected in donations
- Families got about $3,000 each
- Non-profit organizations were vetted
The October, 2017 firestorm was still raging when donations began pouring in for the North Bay. People all over country and the world, perhaps gripped by haunting images of widespread destruction on TV and social media, gave generously to help fire victims.
Now, a little more than one year later, we set out to see where the money went.
“We were never one to ever have to put a hand out,” said Jenn Harrison. Mrs. Harrison and her husband, Miles, left their Aaron Drive in a hurry that windy, fateful night. The Harrisons never expected the gust-driven flames would destroy their entire home and everything inside.
“When we left we thought, ‘we’ll be back tomorrow.’ We really took nothing.”
The Harrisons were among the many who were immediately in need of a helping hand. In short order, they say they received financial support from the North Bay Fire Relief Fund.
“Just to buy a little bit more clothing, and to be able to stop and eat somewhere,” Mrs. Harrison said. “It was a little thing, but it really was a big thing.”
THE $32M FUND
Redwood Credit Union administered the North Bay Fire Relief Fund along with other partners, including the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The organizers said the outpouring exceeded even their wildest expectations: 41,000 donors from all 50 U.S. states and 23 countries. The total amount collected was $32,028,981.
“We didn’t realize we were going to raise $32 million dollars and it was going to be so successful,” said Brett Martinez, the Redwood Credit Union CEO.
The fund produced a report that shows where the contributions wound up. First and foremost, the Credit Union says it absorbed the administrative costs – so there was zero overhead.
“Every dollar that was donated went to help people who were impacted by the fire,” Martinez said.
READ THE REPORT: How The Fund Helped
Martinez said the fund gave more than 6,500 families like the Harrisons about $3,000 each for immediate needs. Later, the fund said it gave gift card to helped families – many of whom were still displaced -- purchase back-to-school supplies for children.
Families directly received most of the donations. But, there were other recipients. One standout was an unusual shed project.
The firestorm leveled the Santa Rosa landscape. It’s flat, save for the occasional tree that somehow survived the relentless flames and intense heat. Some homes are now beginning to rise from the scorched earth, but the first structures to go up on many lots were actually small, 8 ft. by 8 ft. sheds.
That building is a sign of hope,” said Kevin Cox. His group, the Hope Crisis Relief Network, received a grant from the North Bay Fire Relief fund to utility build sheds on victims’ lots. Cox says the shed was both functional and symbolic for recipients.
“It’s the opportunity to say, ‘you know what, I’ve got this started,’” he said.
Cox said his group gathered 11-hundred volunteers to build sheds for more than 100 North Bay families.
“It was truly amazing to be a part of,” he said.
Non-profits like Cox’s received a total of $9.5 million from the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Organizers said a panel of people who know the community’s needs reviewed each non-profit’s request. The fund said it later required spending reports to ensure donations actually went to help fire victims.
“I’m very proud,” said Martinez, the Redwood Credit Union CEO.
The fund said it also gave $1 million to small businesses that were impacted by the fires, plus another $942,000 to support temporary housing, health, and dental care. Organizers said those recipients were also vetted during the application process and scrutinized after they received their portion of the contributions.