Fire donations exceed county capacity

Santa Rosa Junior College provides a space in the basement of the Zumwalt Parking Structure for overflow donations from a Windsor emergency center.

Santa Rosa Junior College provides a space in the basement of the Zumwalt Parking Structure for overflow donations from a Windsor emergency center.

Roberta MacIntyre, Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The disaster recovery system, which includes Sonoma County emergency services, law enforcement and volunteer services, was overwhelmed after decision-makers failed to give information on how to donate to fire victims in the days and week’s following last month’s fires.

Sources working in the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) said there were problems activating the local Donations Management Plan early in the incident. Sources also said there wasn’t accurate information regarding how donations of clothing and food would be managed.

According to the Bay Area Regional Emergency Coordination Plan’s Donations Management Plan, “Donated goods require significant attention. There are insufficient personnel resources to sort, clean, fix, discard, store, and/or transport donations to those in need and the number of warehouses and centers available to conduct donations and volunteer operations is not adequate.”

A few days into the incident, Red Cross Regional Communications Director Cynthia Shaw said the organization was trying to put a donations management plan together based on prior experiences from Hurricane Irma in Florida. “We’re very close to having a program,” Shaw said.

According to Brandy Evans, president and CEO of Goodwill’s Redwood Empire Division, it was suggested to send out a message advising individual donors against donating clothing and merchandise right away.

“But the local voices, the true power voices in our community, were afraid of that message,” Evans said. “So what we chose to do instead was to let the donations continue to flow in which created in the end the same problem we knew was going to come.”

According to the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Emergency Coordination Plan’s Donations Management Plan, “Without clear guidance on what, when, and how to donate, the public repeats old patterns, such as bringing used clothing to undesignated sites.”

Without specific direction, well-intentioned individuals started inundating formal and informal shelters with donated food, clothing and toiletries although there was nobody to organize, transport or store it.

“We needed to tell the community to stop,” Evans said. “Even the food bank was saying ‘We’ve got more food than we can handle.’”

“Nobody has the resources to store all that stuff and wait for the day when somebody comes up and knocks on the door and says ‘OK I’m ready for my four blankets now.’” This point is made clear in the SF Bay Area Regional Emergency Coordination Plan’s Donations Management Plan.

Historically, Goodwill Industries has not been asked to be directly involved with city, county and state emergency planning. “Goodwill is not a first-responder organization,” Evans said. “When these situations arise, the best we can do is try and rally our troops and say, ‘OK where can we provide benefit?’ For my organization here, it really is around the transportation and the storage.”

Goodwill is still fielding phone calls from various organizations including county offices, law enforcement and schools. “We have all this stuff and we don’t know what to do with it and oh, by the way, now it’s starting to rain. It’s all going to get ruined if you don’t come and get it,” Evans said.

After experiences with the North Bay fires and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, Goodwill is pleading with disaster relief officials to listen to what they can and can’t do and not repeat the same mistakes again. “We simply can’t allow this to happen again,” Evans said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email