Alexa Benson-Valavanis knows first-hand the fear that everyone went through when evacuating the Camp Fire. While her home is not on the Ridge, it is in Durham. She and her family were evacuated and feared the worst. But while it has been smoke-damaged, she said, her home still stands, unlike those of so many others. So, this time, while mobilizing an effort to help aid evacuees, it was personal. It also speaks to the mission of the North Valley Community Foundation, of which she has served as CEO since 2005. “I personally and everyone at the community foundation is heartbroken for everyone who has lost loved ones, homes and businesses,” she said during an interview this week. To participate in the effort, go to nvcf.org.
Does the foundation typically do this kind of relief work?
For the past decade, the NVCF has been engaged in emergency response, particularly related to fires. But we never expected it to hit so close to home. When our brothers and sisters in Napa were affected last year, we were able to mobilize. We raised and deployed money for organizations—everything from the Red Cross to local shelters. The magnitude here was obviously something no one would be prepared for.
What has the foundation done so far in response to the Camp Fire?
We set up an evacuation relief fund immediately, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are pouring in from all over the world. It’s amazing to see the compassion and care that human beings have for one another. We were immediately concerned with evacuees and shelter needs. We’re working with existing 501c3s and shelters and making sure they have what they need in the short-term. The state and federal government and insurance companies are doing what they do—we expect that funding to come through soon. So, we want to use this [money we’ve raised]—alongside whatever the state, feds and service providers do—to augment those efforts with private dollars.
It sounds like the relief effort has gotten a lot of response.
The outpouring of support—I’ve reached out to everybody from United Airlines, the 49ers, Cal Water—the amount of businesses responding with care and support is amazing. Amid the flames and smoke, it’s been a beautiful ray of light to see these businesses, individuals and families respond in such a way. There is still a tremendous need for financial resources for the organizations on the ground. Blankets and anything that will help with the cold that we’re now getting.
What’s the best way to give?
I’ve been telling people that if they want to give to a fund that’s going to be in this for the duration, the long term, then the foundation is your answer. If they have a specific desire to help an organization on the ground like Red Cross or their church, then give directly to those organizations. Then also, brace themselves, and if at all possible be prepared for a really long journey here. We’re going to need the community for a long time. Right now we need to stop the bleeding, then somehow train ourselves for a very long journey.