When disaster strikes a community, people tend to look for ways to help. Often that takes the form of donations towards large, disaster relief organizations that parachute in, to stop the bleeding, and leave once the immediate crisis has been resolved. Donations that respond to immediate needs are very important, but what if emergencies were an opportunity to look deeper? What if crisis was leveraged to organize for long-term, transformational, change?
Latino immigrants power the wine industry in Sonoma and Napa. When the Wine Country fires hit in 2017, their voices weren’t heard and their needs were often overlooked. At the Latino Community Foundation, we knew we needed to do something different to support the local Latino nonprofits responding to the needs of working-class families in the area.
More than 2 years later, we are proud of what we’ve built—the Just Recovery Partnership. A participatory grantmaking fund focused on creating long-term and lasting power for Latino families in Napa and Sonoma. Alongside, Latino-led organizations working on the frontlines of recovery efforts, we co-designed a strategy to not only provide emergency relief, but to collectively tackle the issues that keep our families in poverty. Together, we decided to focus on dignified work, affordable housing, and political representation to ensure Latinos had access to opportunity before, during, and long after crises occurred.
In Phase I, we provided rapid relief and direct support to Latino families through grassroots organizations who could act with nimbleness and held trusting relationships in the community to help house evacuees and disperse donations. In Phase II, we invested in a grassroot nonprofit infrastructure to launch economic empowerment initiatives that would build long-term resilience for immigrant families, and in Phase III, we are focusing on civic engagement and community organizing around the housing crisis, 2020 elections, and Census to leverage lasting power for the Latino community in Napa and Sonoma County.
Our people-powered model of philanthropy is a new approach to disaster relief and through it we’ve learned valuable lessons:
First, change moves at the speed of trust. Everything we do at Latino Community Foundation is rooted in the importance of people and the relationships we build with one another. That simple principle is a foundation for the Just Recovery work we supported in Wine Country.
Because our first round of investment from the NorCal Wildfire Relief Fund included participatory grantmaking and coalition building, when the Kincaid fire struck the same communities in 2019, we were able to move faster and more effectively because of the trust and connection generated between organizations and community leaders.
Secondly, investing in community power is an essential part of preparedness. When we first suggested that our wildfire recovery initiative would invest in community organizing around housing stability and civic engagement, we encountered our fair share of skeptics who didn’t see the connection. But as the same communities prepared for a second devastating fire, the fruits of our efforts were apparent. For example, government emergency communication was improved through the Partnership’s advocacy for bilingual emergency translation—critical messaging that keeps Spanish-speaking families safe and informed.
At the end of the day, thinking differently about disaster relief grantmaking and preparedness provides a model for philanthropy that helps communities think and act beyond survival. Our country is facing tremendous challenges- wildfires and housing instability are just the tip of the iceberg. No matter the challenges we face, our communities are resilient, creative, loving and strong – and we are stronger when we address these challenges together. Investing in collective organizing before and after a crisis hits is the most effective way to create transformational change.
Add healing, love and culture— and we all win.