The devastating wildfires that ravaged Southern and Northern California have been fully contained, but disaster relief efforts have just begun.
Helping in that effort is the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, which has authorized giving two grants totaling $25,000 to federations in Northern and Southern California.
“We have a fund that can be used for responses to man-made or natural disasters,” said Sheryl Quen, director of grants and communications for the Foundation. “After seeing the incredible devastation in California, I approached [Foundation leadership] and we brought the idea to the grants committee. One-hundred percent of all funds are being allocated to individuals and institutions affected by the fires.”
Of the $25,000 approved last week by the Foundation, $10,000 will go to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and $15,000 will go to the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region.
Southern California has many ties to Arizona, and thus access to more donations, so Foundation leaders opted to give more money to Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, as it has a much smaller Jewish presence and fewer opportunities to raise funds.
The aim is to provide general humanitarian aid to the region.
Willie Recht, executive director of Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, said he was particularly touched by the Foundation’s gift.
“I just I wasn’t expecting this from a Foundation so far away — with probably closer connections to Southern California — to call up here and offer that sort of support, which is tremendous,” he said.
The Camp Fire in Northern California destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County. The Camp Fire is considered the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, scorching through 135,000 acres. At least 85 people were killed and close to 400 others are missing. Many who survived the fire have lost everything and are living in tents and shelters. Rains helped to douse the fire, but the area is bracing for possible mudslides.
Although the Jewish presence in Paradise is comparatively small, Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region swung into action to provide help to all victims.
“The Jewish community is not huge up there, but they’re people who’ve lost everything and they need help and this is a very Jewishly thing to help the entire community. This is tzedakah at its finest,” Recht said. “Regardless of religion, this money will be going to those who need it most.”
In mid-November, Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region started a fundraising drive to help the victims of the Camp Fire. Within a week, $70,000 was raised. Recht said that’s almost one-fifth of his federation’s annual campaign drive for $500,000.
In Southern California, the Woolsey fire burned nearly 100,000 acres, destroying or severely damaging houses, businesses and institutions near and dear to the hearts of hundreds of Valley residents, such as Camp Hess Kramer, Gindling Hilltop Camp and Camp JCA Shalom.
Along with receiving help from Jews around the nation, Israeli nongovernmental organizations also are preparing to help. IsraAID sent an emergency response team to California to assess the damage in both regions, according to JNS.
“The search-and-rescue teams aren’t looking for survivors; they are looking for remains,” Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID, told JNS. “When we talk to local people we see they are getting support, but there’s very little psychosocial support there.”
Understanding these perils wildfire victims face, the Foundation moved swiftly to provide aid.
“As Jews, we can’t sit idly by,” Quen said. “It’s our responsibility to help.” JN