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Wildfires: ‘Survival mode’ north as archdiocese opens arms to displaced, distressed

FIRE WEB - 10.17.12_Sonoma Fire - 18Marin Catholic High School teacher Joe Tassone and three members of the student St. Vincent de Paul Club delivered 30 cases of bottled water and $500 in gift cards to the SVdP organization at St. Leo Parish in the city of Sonoma, in an Oct. 13 disaster relief mission. (Courtesy photo)

 

October 15, 2017
Rick DelVecchio, Christina Gray and Valerie Schmalz

Marin Catholic High School students delivered bottled water, Catholic Charities fed first responders and Marin County parishes organized to provide shelter and spiritual care, as organizations and individuals throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco responded with aid and comfort to those affected by the devastating Wine Country wildfires.

The mobilization developed as Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone announced a special collection on the weekend of Oct. 28-29 to help the hard-hit Diocese of Santa Rosa. “Please ask your faithful to be generous because the need in the Diocese of Santa Rosa is great,” Jesuit Father John Piderit, vicar for administration and moderator of the curia, said in a message to pastors Oct. 13.

The Santa Rosa diocese, which was struck by some of the most devastating of the 17 wildfires that ripped through eight Northern California counties beginning Oct. 9, and where Cardinal Newman High School and a Catholic elementary school in the city of Santa Rosa were damaged, was “still in survival mode rather than recovery mode,” Bishop Robert F. Vasa said in an Oct. 14 blog post.

“But plans are already underway, especially for our impacted schools, to provide a path forward. The impact on the cities is enormous and this likewise impacts on our parishes,” Bishop Vasa said. “Once our office is available discussions will begin in earnest with the affected pastors to see what relief is needed to support the recovery in those locations and ways to provide some resources for that recovery. Persevere!”

The outreach at Marin Catholic includes many school families offering their homes to Cardinal Newman students, firefighters and/or evacuees; offering on-campus workshops and counseling support to Cardinal Newman seniors to aid in meeting their college application deadlines; and offering computers and classroom furniture to Cardinal Newman. In addition, principal Chris Valdez is in conversation with Cardinal Newman principal Graham Rutherford about students potentially attending Marin Catholic.

The Tubbs Fire destroyed more than 2,800 homes in the city of Santa Rosa alone, about 5 percent of the housing stock in the suburban city of 175,000. Fires elsewhere in Sonoma County destroyed 600 homes. The Tubbs Fire was the deadliest among four fires claiming 22 lives in Sonoma as of Oct. 16, with 99 people still unaccounted for. The death toll in other wildfires statewide climbed to 18, including eight in Mendocino County and six in Napa County, both of which are in the limits of the Santa Rosa diocese.

All four fires burning in Sonoma County were expected to be contained Oct. 20.

Pope Francis, in a message to Archbishop Cordileone and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, sent his “heartfelt solidarity and prayers” for those affected by the disaster and his encouragement for civil authorities and first responders.

In the archdiocese, three student members of the Marin Catholic High School St. Vincent de Paul Club helped truck 30 cases of donated water to the Vincentian organization at St. Leo Parish in Sonoma. The students, led by teacher Joe Tassone, also brought $500 in gift cards on their Oct. 13 mission through a smoke-covered landscape of devastated neighborhoods, ranches and vineyards.

In the immediate aftermath of the devastation in northern Santa Rosa on Oct. 9 and 10, the church kitchen at Our Lady of Loretto Parish made 400 meals in a two-day period for delivery to local shelters. Parish religious education students are being asked to donate to the relief effort, with contributions sent to Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa. Our Lady of Loretto School students also will be collecting donations in the coming weeks.

The archdiocese’s Catholic Charities CYO Camp in Occidental in rural Sonoma County joined in as a relief station for first responders, with camp staff delivering banana and zucchini bread from the camp kitchen for front-line forces including over 400 fire crew members from throughout California and beyond.

“Our Catholic Charities staff has reached out to the evacuation sites and will prepare to house evacuees for the short term if needed,” spokesperson Cailan Franz told Catholic San Francisco. “In the meantime, staff members are working at the evacuation centers, including doing fire crew laundry at Alliance Redwoods starting Sunday. We have offered our camp facility to emergency responders if needed.”

To mention a few among many other responses in the archdiocese, the preschool at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in San Francisco, in response to requests from the San Francisco Police Department, pitched in with carloads of supplies; the Gabriel Project in San Mateo County delivered supplies to the disaster area; and Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco invited donations to the Redwood Empire Food Bank providing critical food to shelters.

In a weekend appeal that will be repeated next week, St. Isabella Parish in San Rafael asked parishioners to contribute food and blankets. In addition, the parish is seeking parishioners willing to house a family in their home.

The 10 Catholic parishes in Marin County that do not have schools were organizing to serve as backup resources, in a joint effort between the archdiocesan Pastoral Center and Deaneries 6 and 7 in Marin. The parishes are being asked to assess their capacity to provide spiritual counseling, access to churches for prayer and meditation, resources for information and goods, and temporary facilities for shelter, feeding and family reunification. The backup support would be put in place if needed by the Santa Rosa Emergency Operations Center, which is coordinating the relief effort.

With 20 shelters open in Sonoma County and a declining number of evacuees as of Oct, 16, there was no immediate call for additional shelter space. But archdiocesan director of safety and security Derek Gaskin said there will be a growing need for spiritual and emotional care as those affected absorb the impact of the disaster.

Gaskin told Catholic San Francisco that trained spiritual counselors should call pastors at the designated parishes in Marin. They are St. Rita, St. Sebastian, St. Cecilia, St. Helen Mission, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Anthony of Padua, Sacred Heart, St. Mary Star of the Sea and Church of the Assumption.

“There is a going to be a big need for spiritual counseling, No. 1,” Gaskin said. “No. 2 would be most likely any kind of human-to-human connection, just being there for people.”

Archbishop Cordileone commented on the Marin effort in an interview with Catholic San Francisco during a pastoral visit to St. Thomas More Parish in San Francisco on Oct. 13.

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the terrible wildfires in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino – all those areas – and know our prayers are with you,” the archbishop said. “I’m very grateful to our own pastors in Marin County who are opening up their facilities for people who are taking refuge from the danger of the fires. Thank you, my dear fathers, for your generosity and your response to those in need and extending Christian hospitality.”

One Marin pastor, Father Cyril O’Sullivan at St. Cecilia in Lagunitas, said his parish is being prepared in the event there is an overflow at the nearby San Geronimo Community Center.

At St. Rita Parish in Fairfax, pastor Father Ken Weare said the parish hall and church are ready to receive those in need of housing, especially for overnight accommodations, with two parishioners who are trained Red Cross managers overseeing the facilities when they are occupied by evacuees. “Additionally, since we are a sanctuary church, any undocumented immigrant evacuees will be safe since the ICE police are forbidden,” Father Weare said an Oct. 13 email to Marin priests.

All victims and evacuees are invited to take whatever clothing and household items they need from the St. Rita Thrift Store, at no cost, and a significant amount and variety of non-perishable food items and water are available from the parish food pantry for any victims or evacuees in need, Father Weare said.

“In my view, as Pope Francis reminds us, it is not a choice but an honor and a moral obligation to serve those in need,” Father Weare told Catholic San Francisco.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County called for donations to the society in Sonoma County to help meet the needs of homeless shelters throughout the fire area. The shelters were in critical need of food, the Marin society said in an Oct. 14 Facebook post relaying a message from the city of Santa Rosa.

Here is a partial list of fire-related resources for those wishing to volunteer or donate.

Volunteer Center of Sonoma County: Visit online at volunteernow.org for volunteer opportunities and on Facebook for updates on immediate needs. Email info@volunteernow.org; (707) 573-3399.

City of Santa Rosa: For information on how to volunteer or donate, visit https://srcity.org/2624/Volunteer-Donate. For updates on relief and recovery, visit www.srcity.org/2620/Emergency-Information.

Redwood Empire Food Bank: If you would like to volunteer with the food bank, visit www.refb.org or call volunteer services coordinator Helen Myers at (707) 523-7900, ext. 143.

Diocese of Santa Rosa: For blog posts by Bishop Robert F. Vasa and updates on Catholic schools and parishes affected by the fires, visit http://srdiocese.org/signofhope.

An open Google document at http://bit.ly/2yOs0Rb has information on relief and recovery needs in Sonoma County. The information is also available at http://sonomafireinfo.com/#/.

GoFundMe lists fire-related crowdfunding campaigns at www.gofundme.com/raise-funds/CAfirerelief


01 10.19.17_sr.devastation PAGEArea residents walk through a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa. The city of 175,000 lost about 5 percent of its housing stock in the Tubbs Fire Oct. 9 and 10, with 22 fatalities overall in Sonoma County and 99 people missing as of Oct. 16. Six people were dead in Napa County and eight in Mendocino County, areas also part of a hard-hit Diocese of Santa Rosa “still in survival mode rather than recovery mode,” Bishop Robert F. Vasa said in an Oct. 14 blog post. (CNS photo/Jim Urquhart, Reuters)

 

01 10.19.17_downtown.sonoma.Sonoma Fire - 9 PAGEA bench in downtown Sonoma was decorated with messages of hope and good will as the Nuns Fire continued to threaten the town Oct. 13. Members of the Marin Catholic High School St. Vincent de Paul Club took the picture on a mission to deliver bottled water to nearby St. Leo Parish. (Courtesy photo)

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