As California fires continue to burn, Catholic Charities aids victims

Paradise Elementary School was damaged in the 2018 California fires Credit Josh EdelsonAFPGetty News Paradise Elementary School was damaged in the 2018 California fires. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty News.

As wildfires continue to burn throughout the state of California, local Catholic Charities agencies are working with agencies in neighboring states to coordinate relief.

The so-called Camp Fire in Northern California has claimed 42 lives in the town of Paradise, and has destroyed nearly 6,500 homes, making it the most destructive wildfire in the state's history. The fire is only a quarter contained, according to the New York Times, and the local sheriff announced Sunday that nearly 230 people were still missing.

At the same time, the Woolsey Fire west of Los Angeles has destroyed an estimated 370 structures and claimed two lives so far.

Matt Vaughan, director of communications for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada (CCNN), told CNA that the agency is working to gather supplies for survivors of the fires. CCNN is headquartered in Reno, Nevada, which is approximately 160 miles east of Chico, California, one of the largest cities affected by the Camp Fire.

"We're trying to collect donations, which we will then send over, most likely to Chico," Vaughan said.

"It sounds like they're asking for a lot of the donations to be sent there right now, just because some of the other areas are affected [by the fire]...We have been in contact with Catholic Charities in Sacramento," he said.

"We're just really focusing on getting the really crucial, needed items over to the affected victims over there at this point...warm clothes, shoes, paper products, blankets and coats are among the most needed items right now. And that's really what we're asking the community to provide."

Yvette Myers, Chief Program Officer for CCNN, said she hopes to hear from the agency in Sacramento soon, as well as from the national branch of Catholic Charities, about the best way to deliver supplies.

She said they are working jointly with a local organization to send trucks full of supplies to California, starting Nov. 16, and that they won't know how big the truck will need to be until they begin receiving donations.

"We're waiting to hear back from Sacramento...about if it's a possibility that we bring trucks to them, where they're going to go. So it's kind of a waiting game right at the moment," Myers said.

Catholic Charities USA is currently displaying a banner on their website encouraging donations for victims of the fires.

"We're actually waiting to hear back from [Catholic Charities USA]...about what the plan is," Myers said.

"Their greatest needs are clothing, hygiene, blankets, coats; they can use anything, but that's what they're really asking for right now."

According to the Diocese of Reno, items that are donated that are not accepted by the donation centers in California will go to local St. Vincent's Thrift Stores in Nevada.

The Hill Fire, burning in Ventura County west of LA, is currently 90 percent contained.

Daniel Grimm, Catholic Charities Regional Director for the Santa Barbara/Ventura region, told CNA that although his agency is not heavily involved with first-response relief, their assistance will be greatly needed later on, especially for the poor who are affected by the fires.

"We tend to help the low-income end of the spectrum, and in a way there's sort of a hidden impact of the disaster, but it usually takes a little longer for it to hit," he said.

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"We are more handling the secondary things needed: rental assistance, help getting a new place, clothing and food...we don't have a big ministry in emergency housing," Grimm said.

He said they have thrift stores in Ventura that provide household items for free to those who lost their homes, but he said they don't get very many requests.

"The interesting thing about this fire- and this was actually the case with the fire we had last December- almost everybody who is immediately impacted is insured and has means. So they tend not to flock to shelters," Grimm explained.

"[But] later on, we deal with low-income people who have lost their jobs from not being able to go into work because of road closures, and also tenants who have lost their rental property and need to find a new place. Often they're not in a position to come up with a new deposit, new first month's rent."

Updated Nov. 13, 6:00 pm ET with additional comment.

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