Repairs, prayer go hand-in-hand in CA

Faith-based ministries provide assistance to residents whose homes were damaged in fires


"Especially in the fall time of the year, people are really afraid because we're still in a drought and that's when the Santa Ana winds come in that start fires. We really help people psychologically during that time."

—Linda Holland, The Shed Min

Wildfires are not out of the ordinary in California. Strong Santa Ana winds and drought conditions make the state susceptible to the blazes that often seem to fuel themselves and leave many without homes.

After the flames are out, some need help rebuilding, some need financial assistance -- others just need prayer. Several faith-based organizations are offering all of these levels of help.

"There's a woman in her 70's. She lost her home and is struggling with cancer. She has the means but doesn't have many people to talk to, so we talk and pray with her," said Linda Holland, a member of Solano Beach Presbyterian Church.

Holland and partner Larry Muschek worked in 2003 with their church when wildfires raged in San Diego County. While working with the Solano Beach Presbyterian Church team, the two were actively involved in beginning The Shed Ministry. Volunteers for the ministry built sheds for people who had been given tools to rebuild their homes. Many tools were being stolen because there was nowhere to store them, she explained.

Holland said her group makes a two-year commitment to a community. They use contacts within the community to help identify someone who may need help from the Shed Ministry. In 2007, the ministry began a new two-year commitment in Ramona, California.

The Witch Fire devastated Ramona in 2007. The Shed ministry worked with Christ In Action to find families who needed help but were slow to trust outsiders.

"They came in as first responders. They set up a food tent, a distribution tent; (they had) portable showers. They had washing machines and dryers in the semi-trailer. For the first month to two months, they were there," Holland said.

More than a year after their work began in Ramona, Holland said the ministry has helped many families. Many Ramona residents raise animals and she said they helped rebuild shelters for a family who raises goats.

"They found out the goats were pregnant," she said. "So we helped them build a goat nursery as well as a shelter for the goats and sheds."

Holland said another family raises zorses, a horse-zebra hybrid. In that case, the ministry helped that family build corrals.

Another woman who works with the ministry leads a prayer effort so people know others are praying for them during trying times. According to Holland, September through November are hard times for people who have lived through wildfires.

"Especially in the fall time of the year, people are really afraid because we're still in a drought and that's when the Santa Ana winds come in that start fires. We really help people psychologically during that time."

Holland said the rebuilding efforts have spawned a proactive disaster response effort in San Diego County that helps coordinate response to new disasters.

"Everyone comes to an unmet needs table. Someone presents a case where someone is without the means to rebuild homes. (Responding) groups contribute the money they can and that goes into a pool to help the family rebuild," she said.

Holland said her group normally works with people who do not have standard resources like really good insurance, so it takes them longer to rebuild.

While many continue to rebuild from wildfires in 2007, the rebuilding is just beginning for families who lost their homes in 2008 wildfires. At least a half-million people were forced to leave their homes during the blazes. Some would never see those homes again.

Volunteers are pouring into the state in response to the fires. Scott Sundberg, Communications Director for the Mennonite Disaster Service, said part of the battle of rebuilding is learning specific building codes for specific states.

"We've poured footings and gotten forms up for one wall. The progress is slow, but the team is excited to get started," Sundberg said.

Mennonite Disaster Service has volunteers from all over the country and long-term volunteers from Canada. Sundberg expects 200-300 volunteers to help in Delzura, north of San Diego. According to Sundberg, they work with several church denomination disaster groups after events like the 2008 California Wildfires and Hurricane Katrina.

"We couldn't do any of it without partners. We don't want to be Lone Rangers out there," Sundberg said. "The Red Cross and Salvation Army usually go in for early response like temporary housing, and making sure people have shelter, food, water and clothing."

Sundberg said his organization enters a community once it is ready to rebuild.

"Our long-term volunteers are experts in construction and stuff of that nature," Sundberg said. "After the media has forgotten a specific disaster, we are there, sometimes for years. We're still working after Hurricane Katrina."

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'Heartbreaking' CA wildfire ministry

Perfect storm leads to conflagration

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