Before the end of the year, $500 prepaid credit cards will begin going out to as many as 1,000 residents whose homes were destroyed by the Thomas Fire in the first distribution from the United Way Thomas Fire Fund.

The American Red Cross of the Central Coast will process payments through its case management system.

United Way of Ventura County, United Way of Santa Barbara County, and the American Red Cross of the Central Coast formed a partnership key to helping the community recover from the Thomas Fire.

The blaze, which has become the largest in California history, destroyed more than 1,000 structures since it started Dec 4.

“This initial distribution of up to $500,000 is a first step toward rebuilding the damage from the Thomas Fire,” said Eric Harrison, CEO/United Way of Ventura County.

“The support from the community and the nation has been unprecedented, and we’ve been looking forward to getting these funds in the hands of those who need it most,” he said.

Jim McGee, CEO at American Red Cross of the Central Coast, said, “Red Cross-trained caseworkers are here to support our community through the recovery process.

“Our caseworkers will provide this additional financial assistance from the Thomas Fire Fund and will work with impacted families on developing a personalized recovery plan.”

Local community partners have determined the United Way organizations, in both counties, are qualified to manage the disaster fund, accept contributions, make distributions, promote the fund, and provide a report to the community on how funds were used.

A committee of representatives from community- and faith-based organizations will be convened to assess needs and allocate remaining money from the fund in Ventura County.

In Santa Barbara County, United Way will coordinate with local partners such as the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Santa Barbara County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SBC VOAD) to determine the most appropriate SBC VOAD member organizations and individuals to receive funding, based on the direct need of those affected.

United Way of Santa Barbara County may also work to address additional support for individual victims if the wildfire emergency expands into more populated areas.

All donations to the United Way Thomas Fire Fund will support those in the communities affected by the Thomas Fire.

To date, more than $2.5million has been collected.

To give, visit; text UWVC to 41444; phone 485-6288; or send checks to the United Way office, 702 County Square Drive, Suite 100, Ventura, CA 93003. Write Thomas Fire Fund in the memo.

To contact the American Red Cross of the Central Coast, call 987-1514.

— Chris Davis, for United Way of Ventura County.