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Community Bridges offers ongoing emergency assistance to the town of Pajaro after flooding disaster

Presented by Kaiser Permanente
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Pictured, Elia Sosa, background, and her parents Elia Avila, foreground left, and Pedro Sosa in their newly rebuilt home in Pajaro.
(Kaiser Permanente)

It was 1:47 a.m. on March 11 when Elia Sosa, 47, heard the urgent knocking on her door. Her family of 7 would have to leave immediately as a wall of water and mud was on its way from the nearby Pajaro River.

When the levee broke on the river, nearly the entire town of low-lying Pajaro, with a population of about 2,800 in Monterey County, was flooded and evacuated. Sosa was able to get everyone out before the water and mud destroyed their home.

Five months later, nearly 65 Pajaro residents were still living in a hotel, including Sosa, her elderly parents, and 4 other family members.

Some of those families are beginning to find new places to live and some, like the Sosas, are going home, thanks to emergency donations from organizations and individuals, and from local, state, and federal aid.

Muddy furniture and ruined household goods line the streets of post-flood Pajaro
Muddy furniture and ruined household goods lined the streets of post-flood Pajaro.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Community Bridges, a local nonprofit social services agency, has been a major player in the recovery effort. The nonprofit received a $90,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente to pay administrative costs, so it could continue to help families like the Sosas. Additionally, Kaiser Permanente employees in San Jose, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz donated $7,000 which the organization matched, bringing total support to $104,000.

Jobs destroyed, too

Even when all the families like the Sosas find a place to live, the economic misery will remain. The flood destroyed about half of the surrounding agricultural land and with it, half the jobs.

“When we left, we just thought we’d come back the next day,” said Sosa, who is a caregiver to her parents, ages 76 and 80. “But by the time we were able to enter the area 3 weeks later, everything was destroyed from having sat in water the whole time. We lost everything, but all along somebody, somewhere has come through for us, either with help paying for the hotel or in rebuilding our house.”

Community Bridges has provided the Sosas and others living in the Roadway Inn with gift cards for food and supplies, help with applications for federal aid and, for the majority who are renters, help with security deposits, credit checks, and first and last month’s rent. The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission is helping rebuild the Sosa’s house.

A lot of our families are still in hotels and are not able to go back to their residences because of the sizes of their families, or because they don’t have residency documentation to run credit checks

— Monica Chavez-Gonzales, Community Bridges case manager.

“Agriculture workers depended on income from the fields, so they are having a hard time getting security deposits required to move in.” said Monica Chavez-Gonzales, a case manager with Community Bridges.

Displaced and confused

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Community Bridges receives $104,000 in flood relief from Kaiser Permanente and KP Santa Cruz County employees to aid residents affected.
(Kaiser Permanente)

Community Bridges has been able to help about 700 people in the area since the flood and recently opened a temporary resource center in Pajaro with a 1-year lease.

“It’s really hard for people to go through this,” said Chavez-Gonzalez. “I see a lot of single parents who have 4 or more kids. They look displaced, and confused, and scared, and they don’t know where to turn. They need somewhere they can lie down that is theirs, so they are not in a shelter with their kids.”

Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president for External and Community Affairs, said that even though the crisis has faded from the headlines, there is still very much work being done.

We’re proud to support Community Bridges so it can continue housing assistance and provide basic living expenses, which are building blocks for community health

— Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president for External and Community Affairs

Although Sosa’s family has suffered and has lost all their possessions, they are one of just a few families in Pajaro who will return to the home they own.

“On Easter Sunday I was crawling under the house scraping the mud out,” said Sosa. “Now it’s almost fixed. God has really been good to us.”

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