2023 Storm & Flood Response

Community Stepping Up Again and Always

This article originally appeared as a guest commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel titled "Pajaro floods: Community groups step up," published on March 28, 2023.

By Ray Cancino, MariaElena De La Garza, Angela Di Novella, Kalyne Foster Renda, Jasmine Nájera, Dan Baldwin, and Susan True

To say the last two weeks have been tough is an understatement. Overwhelming, heartbreaking, enraging, and exhausting is more accurate. The Pajaro levee breach on March 11th came at the same time our community marked the three-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the economic fallout and health impacts of the pandemic, the people hardest hit from the Pajaro flood disaster are largely Latine immigrant families, low-wage essential workers, and farmworkers.

The first days of a disaster are traumatizing as people scramble to safety and live with the fear of the unknown. Now that the evacuation orders have been lifted and Pajaro families are assessing damages to their homes, cars, and small businesses, they’ll begin the stressful process of cleaning and rebuilding their lives as best they can. Many will also be navigating unemployment since the fields they work in are still underwater.

While we wait for a presidential major disaster declaration that would provide more help for recovery, our neighbors in Pajaro have not been alone. Yet again, generous community members, local community foundations, and a strong network of community-based organizations have stepped up to support city and county disaster response.

Through hard earned experience during COVID, wildfire, and now storm and flood relief, this network of community-based organizations has deep expertise in disaster case management and are working hard to be equitable, transparent, and supportive of our community and region. Together, we are leading the community effort to organize nonprofit partners, social service agencies, and grassroots mutual aid groups to ensure low-barrier access to funds throughout the different phases of recovery.

During phase one—from the onset of disaster to one month out—our focus is on providing direct cash aid for all households, this includes doubled-up and multigenerational families. We ensure that families have a no wrong door to services through Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey, Monarch Services, Community Action Board, Community Bridges, and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance. We’ve worked hard to develop a common assessment form and streamlined process to get aid directly to families.

Concurrently, we are working on phase two—now until approximately four months from the disaster—in which we will assess medical, mobility, mental health, job and home damage, and financial assistance. We are then triaging clients based on vulnerability to provide additional assistance first and ensure support and care.

The third phase will be long term recovery which is likely to take years. Here we work on cases that require additional long-term support after FEMA (if applicable), insurance, and other resources are exhausted. The goal here is to keep the community stable and prevent relocation, displacement, and gentrification.

All of this is possible because of generous gifts to the disaster funds at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Community Foundation for Monterey County and to Community Bridges.

Since March 12th, we have given over $600,000 in cash assistance to hundreds of Pajaro families thanks to the generosity of donors and the hardworking nonprofit staff at community-based organizations. However, we acknowledge that because of the scope of this disaster, and limited resources, we have not been able to assist all impacted families as quickly as we’d like. Our hope is that through this plan we will ensure that all families will have an equitable recovery.

There is much work ahead as we navigate the latest disaster to hit our community. We’ll need to coordinate clean up, support repairs, help families decide between salvage or total loss, and hold tenant and legal rights workshops. Meanwhile, we continue to support families through this same process in the San Lorenzo Valley, Soquel, Capitola, and Watsonville from the ongoing storms which started in January.

We will continue to coordinate with local, state, and federal officials to make sure our community gets every resource it deserves, and we must depend on each other to keep digging deep and help our neighbors recover from disaster.

Give to the Santa Cruz County Disaster Fund.

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Ray Cancino is CEO of Community Bridges; MariaElena De La Garza is Executive Director of Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc.; Angela Di Novella is Executive Director of Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey; Kalyne Foster Renda is CEO of Monarch Services, Jasmine Nájera is CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, Inc; Dan Baldwin is CEO of Community Foundation for Monterey County; and Susan True is CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

Photo: La Manzana staff member assists a Pajaro resident. Credit: Jeremy Lezin.