Unsung Santa Cruz: Recent Storms Prove our Neighbors are More Than Just Neighbors

two people and a street with flooding
(Savannah Kari)

In the close-knit community of Santa Cruz County, neighbors proved to be unsung heroes during the recent devastating storms. With properties flooded and homes damaged, residents faced challenging situations. However, amid the chaos, the unity and support within the community shone through. Neighbors came together to help each other, from tearing out wet carpet to offering food trades, showcasing the true strength and kindness of Santa Cruz County residents in times of crisis.

Editor’s note: Lookout’s high school journalism challenge invited students to write a profile of a local unsung hero who is making a positive difference in our community, inspired by our popular “Unsung Santa Cruz” series. Our editing team read and reviewed the submissions, publishing the top ten stories. The top three authors are awarded a $500 scholarship.

You could always borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbors, especially if you live in Santa Cruz County. People in Santa Cruz are close with each other, and it’s a scary world out there, but knowing that you have a support system is always nice. Especially when the recent storms did as much damage as they did.

The storms that hit Santa Cruz County this winter disrupted the lives of many residents. Property damage, evacuation, transportation troubles and many more issues have been stacked upon them.

“It flooded our yard and the inside of our house, the downstairs,” several individuals said. “We had to install new flooring downstairs.”

Mudslides were especially dangerous. Those who live in Felton faced mudslides that tore down walls, fences, windows, even destroyed the interior of homes. One particular mudslide left homes uninhabitable for families to live in; those affected had damp conditions and a shoe full of mud in every room. And that’s not even all the storm did. I walked into one of the flooded houses and found water- and mud-stained walls and ripped-out flooring. Any low-hanging wall decorations were effectively ruined.

Will Miller, a trusted neighbor in Santa Cruz County, tells us the storms started lots of panic. “It was probably a surprise, disbelief. All the stories we had heard are true,” he said. “And we panicked, there was a lot of panicking.” Loads of people were left unprepared. Families were rushing to move everything out of rooms that were at risk of flooding out. There was no furniture in some of the rooms, to make sure the rest of their possessions were not harmed. Storage pods lay outside of homes so these families could have someplace to put their belongings without fear. Some things were not able to be saved.

It’s a natural survival instinct to try to only fend for yourself in situations like these. “People always expect that, in the face of danger, everybody will immediately care for themselves and nobody else,” said Kenny Stipicevich, a high school junior. “But that didn’t happen with us. We trusted each other and became stronger as a whole.”

I won’t lie when I say I (alongside others) had that same cynical lack-of-trust viewpoint on the world. Not everything has shown me otherwise. However, listening to all these people speak so highly of their neighbors and friends and how they’ve been consistently helpful has raised my spirits. I can say I was pleasantly surprised. Will Miller also explains that he and his family were aided by their neighbors sufficiently. Their community came and tore out wet carpet to prevent molding and stench. It was also reported that they did food trades, an act of kindness Will said he is happy for.

We are lucky to live in such a community. The kind where we are not afraid of being alone in any unfortunate situation. Our neighbors are the unsung heroes of Santa Cruz County, for they will come to our rescue in a troublesome moment of our lives. This was just proved to us by the storms. Our neighbors are not just neighbors.