In the wake of the fires in the North Bay, Second Harvest sent three staff members to Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma County to help with Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) applications. These specialized Food Connection Coordinators have extensive experience navigating the federal SNAP (CalFresh) application process and helped over 1,500 households successfully apply for CalFresh in our area last year. Claribel Chavez and Vicky Avila-Medrano shared their experience working with families affected by these tragic fires:

Claribel’s Story –

On October 24, I traveled to Sonoma County to help people with disaster CalFresh. This is my second time volunteering with disaster assistance following wildfires. The first time I volunteered was at the Lake County Fire about 2 years ago and I stayed for 7 days. Unlike the first time, I came prepared and confident on what needed to be done and what to expect.  Before arriving I mentally prepared myself and put up a wall.  This wall I created helped me filter out my emotions and helped me from becoming overwhelmed with all the pain and suffering I saw in these people who needed help. I made myself slow down and stay focused but at the same time I worked efficiently to reach as many people as I could in a short amount of time.

Yes, the devastation was real and yes, the circumstances were sad but I forced myself to stay focused and reminded myself that I was making a difference. I met people who lost everything and others who didn’t, but every single person I spoke to was affected in one way or another. A few refused the help, but many more were grateful for the information. An undocumented family who lost their jobs and home in the fire was excited about getting disaster CalFresh.  I was happy that I met them because normally this household would not be eligible for CalFresh.  I met another lady who was not directly affected but she asked for 11 applications because that’s how many families and friends she knew who were affected. On my last day of outreach we visited food distributions and that was a success, reaching almost 100 families.

This experience has taught me that not everyone reacts the same way when facing disaster and that’s okay. Tragic events affect people differently but nothing can prepare you for something like this. As an elderly man told me, “In the end life goes on and we will rebuild again.”

Vicky’s Story –

In late October, Promotores and three members of our CalFresh outreach team were invited to Sonoma and Napa counties to help fire victims sign up for the Disaster-CalFresh program, which offers one month of food stamp benefits to families affected by the fire. The team visited evacuation shelters, churches, community centers, and hospitals.  We scoured the streets, hoping to register as many victims as possible. “These forest fires have been devastating, but solidarity and sustainability offer hope for the resilience of the community,” shares Food Connection Promotores Manager, Vicky Avila-Medrano.  “We were there with the idea of ​​helping families have one less thing to worry about in difficult times. Helping, responding and building resilience is part of our task as promotores and as human beings. ”


A fines de octubre, Promotores y tres miembros de nuestro equipo de alcance de CalFresh fueron invitados a los condados de Sonoma y Napa para ayudar a las víctimas de incendios a inscribirse en el programa Disaster-CalFresh, que ofrece un mes de beneficios de cupones para alimentos a las familias afectadas por el incendio. El equipo visitó refugios de evacuación, iglesias, centros comunitarios, hospitales, recorriendo las calles, con la esperanza de registrar a tantas víctimas como sea posible. “Estos incendios forestales han sido devastadores, pero la solidaridad y la sostenibilidad ofrecen esperanza para la resiliencia de la comunidad,” explica la Manager de Promotores de Food Connection, Vicky Avila-Medrano.  Estábamos allí con la idea de ayudar a las familias a tener una cosa menos de la que preocuparse en los momentos difíciles.  Ayudar, responder y crear resiliencia es parte de nuestra tarea como promotores y como seres humanos.”