Crowdfunding Platform Lets Bay Area Residents Send Care Baskets Directly To Northern California Wildfire Victims

10/24/2017 11:57 am ET

Bay Area residents are referring to the recent Northern California wildfires as one of the worst fire disasters to ever occur in the region.

The ongoing fires have destroyed at least 5,700 structures, including more than 2,800 homes in Santa Rosa alone. There have already been over 42 confirmed fatalities reported and there are people still missing.

As the regions’ brave firefighters continue to contain and help put out what seems to be ongoing fires, people are wondering how they can help. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult for volunteers to personally visit the affected regions, as evacuation areas have been closed off due to restoration efforts. In Napa County, public officials said that no one was allowed into the hardest hit areas after the fires, as roads were being restored. Locals have even been urged to avoid trying to help with cleanup efforts due to health risks.

Not only has it been tricky for volunteers to help directly, needs continue to change daily. For example, Napa County officials said they prefer money sent to the Napa Valley Community Foundation instead of direct donations. They said they have too much donated food.

A Care Basket Goes A Long Way

It’s been tough for Bay Area residents in particular to feel so limited when it comes to helping victims of the fires. Many wish to help in person, yet are restricted. On the other hand, sending money seems to be less fulfilling since donors are never quite sure what exactly they are funding.

In order to solve these problems, tech entrepreneur, Max Kutuzov, is using his online, crowdfunding platform, BearHugGlobal.org, to help donors send baskets of specifically requested goods to those affected by the Northern California fires, focusing on children in particular.

The BearHug Foundation is a U.S. based, non-profit organization designed to support children in need. Those seeking help through BearHug present their needs in the form of a basket of supplies or services. The price of the basket is then determined automatically, according to the suppliers requested goods.

Interested donors are able to log on to the BearHug platform and pick a basket to fund with money donations. Donors can view the specific items included in the basket, which their funds will be put towards. Once a basket receives its full funding, the needed supplies/services will be purchased locally by BearHug Foundation and then sent directly to the recipient.

BearHug is currently working directly with the Santa Rosa Veterans Shelter to send requested goods to children affected by the wildfires. Donors who wish to contribute can simply go online to BearHug and chose to fund the basket that will be sent to that shelter.

“As a labor union member, I have worked directly with local Veteran groups in the Santa Rosa area. We have been stationed at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, which became an evacuation site for Santa Rosa residents displaced by the firestorm,” said Kym Valadez, President of NFFE. “I have seen many children with their families here, and can see what a hardship, and traumatic experience it has been for them; separated from what is familiar, routine, and safe. Having gift baskets provided by BearHug delivered specifically for these children, filled with art and school supplies, books, toys, stuffed animals, etc. would go a long way in providing comfort and solace during this extremely difficult time”

Knowing You Are Making A Difference

Currently, BearHug is only available for residents living in California. Yet as more victims from the California wildfires are confirmed, it seems like BearHug will be making a big impact in this region.

"The BearHug website has made it easy to donate to wildfire victims and I like the idea of receiving feedback from the recipients,” said San Jose resident, Wade Kawakami. “I can see where my money is being donated and how it will be used. I praise the founders of this project for creating such an important platform.”

BearHug is especially unique in that after each basket is received, a photo is taken of the recipients using the goods, along with a thank you card sent to each donor via email. This allows curious donors the peace of mind that their donations are going towards a good cause and making a difference.

“My idea was to build an online platform similar to gofundme.com or Kickstarter, but that focused on children-in need only,” said Max. “Any organization that takes care of children-in-need can create a basket with a very specific list of needs. We will then manage the crowdfunding, procurement, and delivery of those goods or services, directly to the children. This makes the charitable process very transparent, especially when donors receive the feedback from the recipients with pictures and “thank-you” messages. This platform took nine months to develop and we just went live a couple of weeks ago, around the same time as the Northern California wildfires. We really hope to have a big impact and make a difference.”

Other Ways To Help

Thousands of people have been affected by the Northern California wildfires. Here is a list of other donation and volunteer opportunities taken from a recent LA Times article:

GoFundMe has a list of verified fire relief crowdfunding campaigns. Among them is one to rebuild a burned nonprofit school in Sonoma for children with autism, and another to help a girl who uses prosthetic legs and whose family lost everything in the Santa Rosa fire.

Deborah Lauchner, the chief financial officer for the city of Santa Rosa, organized a fundraiser for local fire victims on the crowdfunding site YouCaring. The city is partnering with United Way to distribute the funds, to be used once insurance and FEMA money is exhausted.

Airbnb has waived service fees to allow hosts to offer their homes near the affected areas to those in need of shelter. People with spare rooms or homes can also add their information to a spreadsheet to become volunteer hosts.

Donations can go to organizations including United Way of the Wine Country, the Sonoma County Resilience Fund, North Coast Opportunities and the Salvation Army Nor Cal Wildfire Fund.

The Graton Day Labor Center and other advocacy groups established a fund to support undocumented families. Donations to the Undocufund for Fire Relief can be made at any Exchange Bank or checks can be mailed to P.O. BOX 1100 Sebastopol, CA 95473.

The labor center is also asking for direct donations to support undocumented and low-income families who have lost work due to the fire.

Redwood Credit Union is accepting financial donations to help fire victims and aid relief efforts. Donations can go to any of the four most affected counties, or be distributed equally to all.

The Redwood Empire Food Bank is providing food to shelters for those displaced by the fire. They're asking for financial donations or ready-to-eat, nonperishable food donations brought to 3990 Brickway Blvd. in Santa Rosa for shelters that don't have kitchens.

The Red Cross is asking for donations and volunteers.

The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County is accepting donations and has a list of ongoing volunteer opportunities.

The Graton Day Labor Center and other advocacy groups established a fund to support undocumented families. Donations to the Undocufund for Fire Relief can be made at any Exchange Bank or checks can be mailed to P.O. BOX 1100 Sebastopol, CA 95473.

The labor center is also asking for direct donations to support undocumented and low-income families who have lost work due to the fire.

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