By Marcy Stamper
A dozen people who suffered losses connected with the summer fires not covered by other programs have received money from a fire-relief fund designated for just these kinds of “unmet needs.”
Participating funders have covered expenses and supplies that can help people get back on their feet or ready for work or school, such as weatherization for winter shelter, closing costs for a loan, or replacing burned tools or snow tires, according to Adrianne Moore, outreach and prevention coordinator at Room One in Twisp.
So far, the unmet-needs group has given out more than $80,000, said Lael Duncan, executive director of Okanogan County Community Action Council, which has received donations for fire survivors.
“We want to encourage people to be empowered to take care of themselves as much as possible,” said Duncan.
The unmet-needs roundtable — representatives from many funds and nonprofits that have collected donations for fire relief — has been meeting weekly for the past three weeks, said Beth Stipe, executive director of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, which administers several fire-relief funds. Room One also manages a fire-relief fund.
Individuals do not petition the unmet-needs group directly. Instead, their requests are presented by disaster case managers, who help fire survivors with a range of needs. The case managers tap all other resources, including insurance, loan programs and volunteers, before a need is officially deemed “unmet.”
The funders developed a set of basic criteria, although there is no strict formula for qualifying, said Moore. They are following what she called an “equity scale” based on vulnerability — for example, giving priority to people who have a disability or who are unemployed and raising children, she said.
While there is no maximum grant amount, the funders are focusing on needs that can make an immediate difference. “It’s what it will take to get people back on their feet and moving forward under their own steam,” said Duncan.
All requests and the specifics of the grants are confidential, and even the funders do not know the identity of the people they are helping, said Stipe.
About one-quarter of the people affected by the fire need some money to become stable, said Stipe. Case managers are handling about 160 cases overall, but not all will need to be brought to the unmet-needs roundtable, she said.
The unmet-needs group includes fire-relief funds created when people donated to the Community Foundation, Room One and other local organizations. Some donors designated their contributions for certain geographic areas or populations such as agricultural workers; other funds are available to anyone. National organizations including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are also participating, said Moore.
Typically, a representative from one of the funds will offer to cover a request that corresponds to the group’s funding parameters. Sometimes several groups will kick in to meet the full amount, said Moore.
While there is no maximum award, they are disbursing the money judiciously, said Stipe. Most awards have been in the hundreds or the thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands, said Moore. Larger needs such as housing will be part of a separate fundraising and volunteer effort in the spring, she said.
Collectively, the groups have more than $600,000 to distribute, with $340,000 in the general fire-relief fund managed by the Community Foundation, $126,000 in a fund for Methow Valley fire survivors, and $60,000 in the fund for agricultural workers. “We will meet every week till there are no more needs or the money’s all gone,” said Stipe.
Room One has not revealed the amount contributed to its fire-relief fund. Moore said the Room One board would have to review the disclosure request and the intentions of the donors before making the total public.
People who need assistance with fire recovery can meet with any of the disaster case managers. Call Room One at 997-2050, Community Action at (509) 422-4041 in Okanogan or at (509) 923-1979 in Pateros.