Sonoma Family Meal started as a simple idea — feeding survivors in the darkest moments of the 2017 Northern California firestorms. In the early days, we served lunch and dinner to thousands each day, not asking for proof of income, immigration status or whether or not a house was lost. We simply provided chef-made meals, packed up and ready to go to a traumatized Sonoma County.
We served more than 80,000 meals in four weeks. We thought we were done. We were wrong.
In January, we restarted our program for those who were only beginning to realize the devastation in their lives. We selected 20 families who lost homes, inviting them to a pilot program. Over the next few months we learned of the long process that survivors were dealing with. Hundreds of hours of paper work, moving multiple times into temporary dwellings, driving long distances to homes, schools and work and simply dealing with the ongoing trauma that has wracked our community.
We thought we would be done in May or June, but again, we were wrong.
Through surveys and communication with our families, which now numbered more than 70, we realized that they were still deep in financial disarray and had years of rebuilding ahead. Most of our families are working class people with average lives, but having lost so much and facing a daunting burden of having to rebuild their lives, they had slipped through the cracks of more traditional aid services. There was almost no help available to most of the families.
Sonoma Family Meal continues because we have built a community of survivors who see these weekly gifts as a life raft, but more importantly, a chance to return to the table with their families and enjoy a few moments of calm in the ongoing storm.
We are proud to have added seniors and individuals from the retirement community of Journey’s End, many of whom are living in FEMA trailers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. We have added families vetted by ROC (Rebuilding Our Community), who face significant economic challenges. Most recently we have added four families who have relocated to Sonoma County from Butte County’s deadly fires.
Sonoma Family Meal is a volunteer-based boots-on-the-ground project that receives little grant funding and has received only limited amounts of wildfire funding, unlike other organizations. Our operation survives because of our strong chef community, local farmers and producers and generous donations from individuals. We are one of the only programs that continue to serve fire victims weekly.
So please consider a donation. It means the world.
(Top left photo of me by Roman Cho, ashesfelllikesnow.com)