In less than three months, our nation has experienced an array of natural disasters of epic proportions. Hurricanes, floods, and fires. And many more have experienced crises internationally due to earthquakes and other events. As a native of Northern California, it’s painful and unreal to see the sudden and devastating loss of lives, livelihoods, and homes that so many in Napa, Solano, Sonoma and surrounding counties are experiencing now.

For those who want to support the victims of the California fires and to offer immediate help and relief, Northern California Grantmakers is serving as a regional hub, updating opportunities to give. On its updates page, you will see that each of the major community foundations in the region has created relief and recovery funds that you can support. Community foundations are uniquely positioned to coordinate local philanthropic responses and leverage networks of organizations optimally.

If you are interested in giving time during these urgent moments, you can connect with the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, which is spearheading regional efforts. Many, many people will be homeless just as the holidays arrive. The San Francisco-Marin Foodbank, which serves as a regional distribution center for food aid, is an extremely effective and well-led organization that will use your contributions of time and money wisely. You also can volunteer and contribute to the local Redwood Empire Food Bank.

However, our guidance for giving in the wake of all types of disasters still holds true. Remember the long arc of disasters: the pain persists long after the last of the news cameras depart. Recovery and rebuilding efforts may take ten years or longer and there are many ways to affect real change over that time period. In addition to taking a long-view, philanthropists can spearhead local efforts to rebuild in ways that can mitigate the effects of future disasters, and look out for opportunities to help those who are most vulnerable. In Napa and Sonoma counties, for example, there are many, many agricultural workers with families who harvest grapes for the wineries who will need longer-term support.

I am amazed by the stories of resilience and fortitude that are already emerging from these Northern California communities. But I’m not surprised – Americans in general and Californians in particular are strong, generous, and powerful when we work together. Sadly, disasters are sometimes the catalysts that bring out the best in us.


Stephanie Fuerstner Gillis is a Strategy Advisor for Giving Compass and Senior Advisor for the Impact Driven Philanthropy Initiative at the Raikes Foundation.