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United Way Sends $77,000 in Relief Checks to Tea Fire Survivors

First response fund disbursements aim to help self-employed individuals of modest incomes.

Those affected by the Tea Fire may breathe a little easier after the first checks from the Tea Fire Response Fund were issued earlier this week from United Way of Santa Barbara County. The fund, established in the aftermath of the November blaze that destroyed 230 homes in the Montecito and Santa Barbara foothills, has collected $434,426 donated by individuals and organizations.

More than $77,000 was disbursed this week, and the majority of the money was intended to foster self-sufficiency for those recovering from their losses.  Paul Didier, United Way’s president and CEO, explained that because most of the applicants were self-employed individuals of modest income, many of them renters, the funds will help them re-establish their means of employment.  The checks will go through Red Cross, who will then purchase the items people have applied for in order to get back on their feet.

“Some applicants were carpenters and electricians looking to replace their tools so they could get back to work,” Didier said. “Most were looking for just enough to become independent and be able to participate in their own disaster recovery.”

Six percent of the funding for this round of checks went toward school supplies and only 3 percent went toward housing. Didier said first-responder groups or insurance companies have likely covered housing costs, but that may run out in the next few months. As a result, the amount of money going toward housing might rise in the next set of grants. In addition, those who received awards can also reapply for the next round of disbursements.

The fund’s goal was to assist with the long-term needs of individuals, after the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter and and the Salvation Army stepped in to help with short-term needs. Long-term recovery aims to give survivors as much help as possible, while still anticipating unforeseen needs that might develop later.

The fund is the result of a collaborative effort with 21 different organizations, and although the needs outweigh the funds available, a case manager met with each of the 21 applicants to determine what they would need to get back on their feet, Didier said. A subcommittee made up of 13 volunteer public and private organizations then screened the applicants. That committee sent them on for additional review with an oversight committee of local community leaders who give direction and ensure the money is used appropriately.

Didier said the community’s response has been great. “It’s been an example of what a kind and giving community Santa Barbara is,” he said.

Applications are being accepted until Nov. 1 and people seeking assistance can apply at the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter, 2707 State St. Applicants should bring proof that their house was burned down, damaged, or that they have been adversely affected by the fire. To set an appointment with a case manger, contact Pamela Voge at the American Red Cross at 805.687.1331.

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