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Wildfires, Lake County, and food banks working together to help disaster victims

October 28, 2015

By Stephanie Nishio and Sarah Palmer DeFrank
CAFB Director of Programs and CAFB Advocacy Manager

When natural disasters strike, people are often cut off from their normal sources of food. This was the case for residents of Lake County, which experienced three major wildfires in recent months. More than 1,200 people lost homes in the fires, and estimates put the cost of the damage around $1.5 billion.

We recently traveled to Lake County, where we joined 10 CalFresh outreach experts from six Northern California member food banks — as well as Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa and CSU Chico — to partner with Lake County Department of Social Services. We were all working collectively to help victims of the Valley Fire to sign up for Disaster SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. D-SNAP is federally funded and a vital program that helps victims of natural disasters offset the expenses and losses incurred during the disaster while helping to support local economies.

The six CAFB member food banks were:

What has happened in Lake County is a reminder that when disasters strike, it is incredibly powerful when food banks in a region work together to assist victims. CAFB continues to work with our membership to develop regional disaster response plans.

Dedication, Compassion and Expertise

Despite the heaviness of the week, we were inspired by the D-SNAP outreach staff’s remarkable dedication, compassion and expertise. They made personal sacrifices, driving hundreds of miles, leaving children at home, and giving up weekends and working long days to help a community under great strain.

As skilled outreach professionals, they:

  • Built trust and motivated community members to apply and to tell others. (We met one woman who found out about D-SNAP and talked her adult daughter into applying, even though she thought it was a waste of time and believed there was no way she would qualify; she was approved.)
  • Walked around campsites and talked to displaced people at their tents.
  • Advocated for clients and made sure the process was working as it was supposed to.
  • Offered translation services when needed.
  • Posted flyers and conducted outreach in places where the poor air quality required them to wear masks.
  • Convinced a school principal to let them make hundreds of copies on the school copy machine to distribute packets to classrooms.
  • Helped train new D-SNAP outreach workers and were generous with recommendations.
  • Listened to people’s stories, witnessed their tears and trauma, hugged back when they were hugged, and came back just as passionate the next day.


Thanks to these professionals, more than 1,100 households received D-SNAP. We are so proud to have worked alongside them, and to have shared this experience. They deserve the utmost recognition for the way they represented their programs, their food banks, SNAP outreach, and D-SNAP. Kudos!

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