Volunteers providing food to those who were forced to flee the 2017 fires in Sonoma County. (Photo/Courtesy Jewish Family and Children’s Services)
Volunteers providing food to those who were forced to flee the 2017 fires in Sonoma County. (Photo/Courtesy Jewish Family and Children’s Services)

Local Jewish agencies ready to provide fire relief

With multiple fires raging across Northern California, Bay Area Jewish agencies are offering support for affected individuals at the start of yet another season of deadly and destructive wildfires.

“We’ve learned that it’s really important to come out early,” said Cindy Rogoway, executive director of Hebrew Free Loan, an S.F.-based nonprofit that offers interest-free loans for myriad needs. “Even if [those in need] just tuck it away in the back of their head.”

HFL sent out a communication on Aug. 21 with instructions on how to apply for fire disaster relief, two days after Gov. Gavin Newsom reported that the state was battling 367 known fires, including in several East Bay counties, mountainous regions near Santa Cruz and in the Napa area.

To be eligible for a loan through HFL, the applicant must be Jewish, or an employee of a Jewish organization regardless of religious background. HFL can provide “bridge loans” of around $2,000, as well as larger loans of around $20,000 for those who have lost their homes, vehicles or businesses.

As of Aug. 24, the so-called LNU, SCU and CZU Lightning Complex fires collectively had consumed more than 800,000 acres and burned down more than 1,000 structures, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The LNU fires in Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano and Yolo counties by far had done the most damage, destroying 937 structures and causing five fatalities. Overall, the California fires have taken seven lives as of Aug. 25, the New York Times reported.

Rogoway reported that HFL received an application from a homeowner in the Santa Cruz region whose house was destroyed. The man had lived there for 40 years, she said.

The agency anticipates more applicants over the next few months, Rogoway added, as residents of affected communities slowly recover from the devastation. In the past, she said, victims of natural disasters have gotten into credit card debt while trying to rebuild, then they turn to HFL for relief months later.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation is accepting donations to its Wildfire Emergency Fund; 100 percent of the funds will go to the fire-ravaged areas. For individuals located further south, the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley is collecting donations.

S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services also is offering financial assistance, as well as emotional support and general advice on how to manage the disaster. The organization set up a fund to help raise money for the relief efforts.

Nancy Masters, associate executive director, said JFCS had received calls from residents in communities affected by the fires, but did provide an exact number of requests.

“We as an agency are ready and helping,” Masters said. “We just don’t know yet what the scope of the need will be.”

Masters said her organization already was in “crisis mode” because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the fires have compounded the situation with multiple layers of stress and challenges. During the pandemic, JFCS has been providing food-insecure families with groceries and delivering cooked meals to seniors, among an array of mental health and other services.

Both HFL and JFCS have helped people hurt by California’s destructive wildfire seasons over the last few years.

In 2017, JFCS held a community meeting on recovery and insurance after the Tubbs Fire, which burned parts of Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties. The agency also provided food and material support. Rogoway said HFL has helped with loans every year since the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

“Our goal is to make sure that people who need our help know that we’re here,” Rogoway said.

Where to get help

Hebrew Free Loan or (415) 546-9902 ext. 110. S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services or (415) 449-3700. S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.