Remembering Borderline, Hill & Woolsey Wildfires a Year Later

November marks the one-year anniversary of the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting (Nov. 7) and also the one-year anniversary of the Hill and Woolsey wildfires (Nov. 8).

During the difficult time, many organizations and individuals throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties stepped up to help those with basic necessities, information or even just someone to talk to.

As a way to continue future disaster relief efforts, five nonprofits in Ventura County—American Red Cross, FOOD Share, Habitat for Humanity, Interface Children and Family Services and United Way—received a total of $75,000 in funds through the Sherwood Cares Foundation (SCF), an organization that serves children and families by supporting programs that address educational, medical, nutritional and safety needs. The funds were in partnership with the Professional Golf Association’s Invesco QQQ Championship, held annually at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

“When tragedy struck our community last fall, these five local nonprofits went into action to help provide relief, food, shelter and assistance to those most effected,” says George Carney, president of SCF. “We are proud of all the charities we have supported over the years and how they stand ready to support those in need in our community.”

Local communities are grateful and appreciative to the following organizations.

American Red Cross of Ventura County

When the Hill and Woolsey fires broke out, the American Red Cross of Ventura County (ARCVC) immediately stepped into action.

Four Red Cross shelters were positioned at Palisades Charter High School, California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Taft Charter High School and Pierce College in Woodland Hills to provide access to health services, emotional support and information from agencies participating in the recovery process. As of May, $65.2 million was raised during the 2018 California wildfires.

Tony Briggs, CEO for ARCVC, said shelters were set up within a two-hour period. The shelters consisted of cots, computer equipment, blankets, water and snacks. About 100 volunteers from around California assisted and care kits containing toiletry items and a change of clothes were distributed.

“It’s items to get them through the day and where they can say, I can at least feel human right now,” says Briggs. “We try to have everything for a safe place for people to come to in a disaster.”

Briggs says case management work and recovery planning is still being performed, which can last from one month to a year depending on the person’s needs. Counseling is also offered.

“We have trained counselors until the client feels they don’t need our services,” says Briggs. “We are with the client for as long as they need us.”

During the Borderline shooting, Briggs says financial support was provided to those who were injured or lost a loved one. Reunification services were also provided at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center with the help of 25 volunteers.

“We are here to alleviate human suffering and do that by the power of volunteers and generosity of our donors,” says Briggs. “We are always training, standing by and ready to help when asked.”

Briggs says ARCVC will use the funds from SCF to train people in client services, replenish bottled water and snacks, and provide fuel in Emergency Response Vehicles, which carry shovels, garbage bags, respirator masks, gloves, sifters, cleaning supplies and bottled water to distribute to people who have returned to their homes.

“The funds will help people in need at the time that we need it,” says Briggs. “We are looking every other night working to help a family who has suffered a house fire.”

For more information or to donate to the American Red Cross, visit RedCross.org.

FOOD Share of Ventura County

FOOD Share pantries were full and ready to feed those who had lost their homes during the Hill and Woolsey fires.

FOOD Share CEO Monica White says the 190 nonprofits FOOD Share works has a pantry that carries 70% of shelf-stabled foods, including pasta, peanut butter and canned fruits and vegetables while the remaining 30% is fresh produce, including pineapples, bananas, berries, tomatoes, celery, dairy and deli products from local retailers and farms.

“It’s humbling in itself to have someone come and ask for help,” says White. “They do not require proof of tax forms or anything. We just ask for name, address and how many people in their family so that we know how much food we can provide them. We distribute the food at no cost.”

White says between the Thomas Fire in 2017 and the Hill and Woolsey fires, 2 million additional pounds of food went through the pantries. For the Hill and Woolsey fires, the retail value was $34 million, equivalent to 13.2 million pounds of food.

“It was a large amount of food being distributed going to those families affected by the fires,” says White.

In 2018, the nonprofit had 2,500 volunteers that donated 29,000 hours packing food boxes, sorting food and driving trucks.

“They are amazing, we couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” says White.

White says the funds received from SCF will help buy additional food that doesn’t grow locally, including rice, beans, pears and potatoes. Every $1 is equivalent to $5 of food.

“Rice and beans are one of the most popular food items at all of the pantries,” says White. “One thing great about partnerships with Feeding America is having incredible buying power.”

For future disaster relief, White says FOOD Share received a grant from the Albertsons Company Foundation during the Thomas Fire, which was used to waive shared maintenance fees that are valued at 19 cents per pound.

“In the past we collected a shared maintenance fee from the pantries,” says White. “We have waived it and will continue waiving that fee for as long as possible to help with additional families who are coming to our pantries for assistance, long after the fire has passed.”

For more information or to donate to FOOD Share of Ventura County, visit FoodShare.com.

Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County

Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County (HFHVC) was locked and loaded with tools for rebuilding, repairing and restoring neighborhoods destroyed by wildfires. The assistance is free of charge and available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

“Some homes are underinsured and families can’t get their homes rebuilt,” says Darcy Taylor, CEO of HFHVC. “Habitat helps supplement that gap with resources.”

About 40 to 60 volunteers will help rebuild homes destroyed by the Hill and Woolsey fires, which could take years to complete. Although there is currently not an accurate rebuild number from those fires, Taylor says two homes are currently being rebuilt in Ojai and Santa Paula that were destroyed during the Thomas Fire. Donations for those two homes totaled $100,000.

Taylor says homes are rebuilt with fire-retardant materials, such as clay or tiled roofing, along with different technologies. HFHVC also supplies the home with a microwave, refrigerator and washer and dryer.

“The landscape is changing on how to build houses much safer,” says Taylor. “We always get better at building safer homes as technology changes.”

Taylor says the funds received from SCF will be used for home furnishing vouchers valued at $50 or more for low-income households affected by the fires. HFHVC currently has stores in Oxnard and Simi Valley.

“It gives individuals an opportunity to refurnish the homes (they are having rebuilt) or to use the vouchers in other ways, such as to rent,” says Taylor.

For more information or to donate to Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County, visit HabitatVentura.org.

Interface Children and Family Services

Interface Children and Family Services (ICFS) staff of 45 were ready to provide mental trauma support and engagement after the Borderline shooting and Hill and Woolsey fires through 2-1-1, a comprehensive information and referral service for Ventura County. It is currently the only 2-1-1 system in the state of California.

According to the 211Ventura.org website, the service connects more than 30,000 Ventura County callers and texters each year with information about health and human services available to them. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in 150 languages through phone interpretation services and text messaging. Individuals can also dial or text 2-1-1 with their zip code to receive a live two-way texting conversation with a professional who can help.

ICFS also uses 2-1-1 to send out disaster information via text messaging to larger groups of people.

“We have been using text response for a couple years and it’s so much more efficient because we can push information out to large groups of people many times to serve them more quickly,” says Erik Sternad, executive director for ICFS.

The 2-1-1 website also provides resources to more than 3,000 visitors each month and during times of disaster, provides incident-specific information in coordination with local emergency services, including road closures, evacuation orders and shelters both locally and nationwide.

“We have the single largest database for food, shelters, counsel and legal services,” says Sternad. “Our staff responds day in and day out when folks aren’t sure where to go.”

With the Borderline shooting, ICFS assisted 135 clients at the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office’s victim assistance center, 25 with completing documentation forms or financial assistance, 119 with gift cards, three with cell phones, provided Airbnb vouchers for 35 nights and money to purchase food.

“With Borderline, some of the trauma and mental health support work is more intensive now than it was at the beginning because there’s a long recovery that could last months, years or even decades,” says Sternad.

With the Hill and Woolsey fires, ICFS engaged with 128 people who called in and represented 250 adults and 50 children affected by providing information, including how to apply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are dedicated to long-term support recovery,” says Sternad.

In conjunction with the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), ICFS is also currently developing a first of its kind community information exchange system to use during a disaster and for future recovery efforts.

“It’s exciting to see Ventura County providing best in class solutions for disaster coordination and bring in other parts of the state,” says Sternad.

Funds received from SCF will support staff that handle 2-1-1 phone calls and text messages.

“This will help with direct support for victims and also help with development of these coordination systems,” says Sternad. “When there’s a disaster, there’s no lack of enthusiasm from the community to want to help, but the problem is it’s not coordinated. That’s why these kinds of planning systems are very critical so that we’re even better prepared for the next disaster.”

For more information or to donate to Interface Children and Family Services, visit ICFS.org.

United Way of Ventura County

When the Thomas, Hill and Woolsey fires occurred, the United Way of Ventura County (UWVC) helped raise more than $5 million from more than 9,000 donors nationwide. The organization also worked with its national office to assist with partnerships, including Airbnb, who provided disaster housing coordination with its users, and Lyft, who provided ride share services.

“To date, we have given financial assistance to over 1,800 households affected by the fires,” says Eric Harrison, president and CEO of UWVC.

Funds received from SCF will help with the UWVC’s Community Impact Fund for low-income individuals and families through the organization’s programs focusing on health, education and financial stability. If needed, UWVC also uses disaster response volunteers through its Volunteer Ventura County website. The organization also works with VOAD for disaster coordination.

“When a disaster hits, we call volunteers to assist wherever they’re needed,” says Harrison. “With the Thomas Fire, volunteers weren’t needed by the county, but if there’s a flood, there is a need for sandbagging.”

UWVC also works closely with ICFS with 2-1-1 by providing assistance for the support line. Wildfire victims’ data collected by ICFS is given to UWVC to provide future financial assistance.

“One of the challenges we had with Woolsey is once a person’s home is destroyed, they move,” says Harrison. “If we want to give them financial assistance, we can’t send a check to their former address, so Interface helps with outreach by providing us phone numbers and addresses.”

Harrison says the wildfires have also caused homelessness to increase in Ventura County by 28% since 2017. UWVC is currently working on a landlord assistance program by partnering with local cities to provide vouchers for homeless individuals and pairing them with landlords.

“As a result, we are taking a leadership role on homelessness because rental assistance was the number one category that people needed,” says Harrison.

UWVC has also supported HFHVC with funding from the disaster fund while the ARCVC helped identify the number of houses and victims impacted by the fire. The UWVC’s long-term recovery group then examines who has been impacted by the fires.

“With Woolsey, we were a lot more prepared as a community because we had just experienced the Thomas Fire,” says Harrison. “We took lessons learned and nonprofits responded in a really coordinated way.”

For more information or to donate to the United Way of Ventura County, visit VCUnitedWay.org.