SLV Adopt a Family for the HolidaysColumnists Fire Recovery 

SLV Support for Families

Adopt-a-Family program brings relief during the holidays

By Julie Horner

With so many displaced by the CZU Complex Fire, Ben Lomond local Julie Zabalza came up with a plan to help bring some stress relief and a much needed feeling of support to valley families in need. “Around the middle of September, I had this idea to create an adopt-a-family program for the holidays,” she said. She put the idea out on social media and “six or seven ladies reached out to help get the ball rolling.” They launched San Lorenzo Valley Holiday Love in mid October. “We’ve gotten a lot of thanks, a lot of encouraging words as feedback. I’m hoping to see a lot of smiles.”

Julie and her team created a website to match donors with families in need. The goal was to try to assign two giving families to one receiving family. “We’ve had about 60 families sign up to receive gifts,” a total of 201 individuals. About 115 families signed up to donate, she said. “We tried to touch all of our bases.” 

The team decided that a wish list format would be the most personalized way to coordinate donations, like a wedding registry. Julie said, “Most of the receiving families asked for clothing, household necessities, air purifiers, art supplies, seeds for planting, and toys. Some families only requested gift cards to specific places. Nothing extravagant. Most asked for the basics.”

SLV Adopt a Family San Lorenzo Valley

The group received some monetary donations, but most of the giving families signed up to give gifts through the matching program. The deadline to sign up was in mid-November. As the wrapped gifts started to arrive in early December, the team began dropping them off. Along with the gifts, the team included stockings stuffed with donated items from local shops and a custom ornament. “We wanted to find a local artist but we didn’t have time.”

She believes there will be need again. “We do have intentions for continuing this next year. Santa Cruz County is pretty notorious for having huge processes.” So she thinks many might be in for the long haul. An animal control officer by training, she was assigned to the Paradise Fire in 2018. She uses that experience as a bellwether for what the Santa Cruz Mountains might go through. “This will be going on for four to five years,” she thinks. “The process took so long for Paradise—regulations, landslides. A lot of people just decided to leave the area.” In Santa Cruz, “people are just waiting for the rain, hoping for the best.”

Julie is now an animal control officer with the county of Santa Cruz. During the CZU evacuation, Santa Cruz Animal Control was called to feed and water abandoned or lost animals in the mountains, mostly chickens and cats. “The animal shelter was at capacity for the animals who were able to be evacuated,” she said. “The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes at the shelters is incredible.” Seeing the devastation from the fire and finding deceased animals was difficult. “I got lost a lot looking for these animals. It was frustrating how properties were not very well marked.” She notes that officials need to be able to find you in case of emergency. 

As San Lorenzo Valley Holiday Love wraps up for this season, Julie said, “I hope that families stay in the area. Mountain people are strong. We’re going to get through this one way or another.” 

Meet the rest of the San Lorenzo Valley Holiday Love team:

Janet Nachman, Ben Lomond

Sarah Hart, Boulder Creek

Lenka Lukacova (aka Magdalene Meadows), Boulder Creek

Michelle Lloyd, Felton

Stephanie Ross, Santa Cruz

Kaycee Beames, SLV

To be part of SLV Holiday Love next year as a volunteer, donor, or recipient—go to:

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