Boulder Creek Recreation Community ReliefColumn: Julie Horner Fire Recovery Local News 

Community Relief: Fire Families Not Forgotten

By Julie Horner

A small hand-drawn sign marks the corner of Deerwood and Bear Creek Road in Boulder Creek, near where the devastating CZU Complex Fire consumed 86,509 acres across two counties from August 16 through September 22, 2020. “BCRPD Community Relief,” the sign reads, and just around the corner, through a residential neighborhood, is the Bear Creek Community Center on Forest Hill Drive where the Boulder Creek Recreation and Parks District hosts enrichment programs for the community. Since September 26, District Manager, Hallie Greene, who lost her own home to the fire, and Kelly Pruden, BCRPD Events Coordinator, have thrown themselves into the relief program, which provides support for families cast adrift after losing everything.

Relationships were forged with representatives from FEMA, Angels Among Us, Dr. Marilynn Underwood from the County of Santa Cruz, Acupuncturists Without Borders, Steven Shabry’s Blue Sun Cafe, Community Foundation, Johnnie’s, Ronnie’s Meat Market, Wild Roots, and other local organizations to provide information, sustenance, and support each Saturday at the Community Center. Boulder Creek resident Sara Pichette, who had worked with Angels Among Us sheltering animals in the Camp Fire, was the conduit to bringing 47 pallets of household goods, cleaning supplies, and personal care products to distribute to CZU fire survivors. 

Help has been available to assist fire families with navigating complicated processes like the government-sponsored debris removal program through CalOES and CalRecycle, and tricky insurance claim issues. Pruden noted, “The insurance part of it is so intense. Families are voicing that they’re not being helped the way they need to be.” As the program moves forward in the new year, Pruden indicated that more effort will be spent on these kinds of hardships.  

Community Relief resumes on Saturday, January 23 from 2:00 to 5:00 pm and consecutive Saturdays with funding to last through April. “The needs aren’t going to go away, so we’ll be working on funding ongoing.” The event on the 23rd will feature live music from The Crooked Road Ceili Band.

Because of Covid restrictions, Community Relief has taken place outdoors. One of the goals ahead includes replacing outdoor storage with sturdier options against the weather. Pruden said, “We’re going to hold space for larger donations like furniture, and look into ordering commercial storage pods for families that don’t have places to store their things.” 

She recalls when valley water systems had been destroyed and residents who were allowed to repopulate after the evacuation used the SLV Water District temporary water station. “The District was running out. Convoy of Hope dropped off a load of 17 pallets of water, which we’re now saving for potential evacuations this winter.” And, in the case of mudflows, the Bear Creek facility will be prepared to open its doors to assist the community.

The task of recovery seems insurmountable. But Pruden is resilient. “I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s not something I feel overwhelmed with or tired.” She admits, “It’s going to be a long, long process. We want to be able to fill in the gaps. Having Hallie on the team, being able to see what she needs from her perspective as someone who lost her home, will help.”

Reality is settling in for families, Pruden said. Community Relief answers who does what, who to ask. “Slowly but surely we’re becoming the hub of the community for fire relief.” Efforts for 2021 include engaging teams of volunteers in community projects and an adopt-a-family program. 

“Everyone who is here needs to be here,” Pruden says. “One lady who lost her home runs into her neighbors here. Seeing familiar faces is a big part of it, too. We’re all in it together.”

Bear Creek Community Center, 15685 Forest Hill Drive, Boulder Creek bcrpd.org

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