To strengthen our community, we must continue to build resiliency to respond to the next disaster. The last three disaster-impacted years should not be chalked up to once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. For some, the March 11 flood in Pajaro was the fourth time in the past 28 years that they’ve been devastated by preventable flooding. For others, the bomb cyclone and howling winds that hammered the San Lorenzo Valley in January and March erased years of progress and put more families in need of recovery who had already been gripping from the CZU Complex Fires in 2020.
Since the CZU Fires, Community Bridges’ dedicated staff have been responding to the needs of our region. From Santa Cruz County to Monterey County throughout the Pajaro Valley, they have provided the necessary coordination and support that many families in need have turned to. As we continue to respond to the latest storms in both the Pajaro and the San Lorenzo valleys, our team across our 10 programs has been working hard to ensure the necessary needs of our communities are met through an equitable recovery.
Over the past three years, this has included distributing millions of dollars to families impacted by the pandemic, serving as one of the leading agencies for the Long-Term Recovery Group working with CZU Fire survivors, handing out thousands of summer lunches to low-income students in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, and protecting, nourishing, transporting and helping vaccinate thousands of older adults.
More recently, our Family Resource Collective staff alone eclipsed $800,000 in direct economic assistance provided to families in Pajaro since the March 11 flood. And thanks to the help of our four nonprofit partners (Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. (CAB), Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey, Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA), and Monarch Services), we will soon eclipse a total of $1 million in direct economic assistance distributed to Pajaro residents. This would not have been possible without the generosity of more than 1,700 individuals, businesses and groups who have donated to our Pajaro Valley Flood Relief fund, as well the leadership of the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and the Community Foundation for Monterey County. Community Bridges will continue distributing economic assistance in the coming months as funds are made available through donations, government funding, and support from local foundations.
I wanted to take a pause to appreciate the hard work and dedication of our team that has been at the front lines of these emergencies over the past three years. As they have distributed millions of dollars to families in need through the pandemic, the CZU Fires, and the spring and winter storms, they have done so with equity, transparency and accountability at the top of mind. As trusted stewards of funds critical to families in need, they have worked diligently to issue these dollars based on vulnerability, impact, and objective measures to operationalize and ensure equity. Distributing funds is easy. Ensuring that funds go to families who need them the most is a much more difficult but worthwhile task to make certain that we meet the needs of those most impacted by each disaster.
As we continue to prepare for the next emerging need and emergency, we must ensure that we invest in our community to be ready to respond in the future. There have been good steps in that direction recently such as the creation of the Office of Response, Recovery & Resilience (OR3) in Santa Cruz County, but more needs to be done to ensure funding is available to support first-responding nonprofits providing direct aid and support. Last year, Community Bridges lost close to 30% of our operating budget for the Family Resource Collective due to the County’s CORE funding allocations and priority shifts. If it was not for funders who provided bridge support, none of the assistance we’ve provided during the most recent disasters would have been possible. So, thank you to our funders, our employees, our partners, and our community for all your support.
Ray Cancino is CEO of Community Bridges, a nonprofit agency serving more than 22,000 participants annually through programs such as Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County, WIC, Elderday Day Adult Day Health Care, Family Resource Collective, and Lift Line. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.