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Disaster relief asks for help to keep helping survivors

Danilla Sands, the Director of Disaster Resources for United Disaster Relief of Northern California, outside the new facility at 1240 Airport Park Boulevard in Ukiah.

November 24, 2021 — Local disaster relief has moved to Ukiah. In September, almost five years after opening her doors in a Redwood Valley warehouse, Danilla Sands, the Director of Disaster Resources for United Disaster Relief of Northern California, moved into a new 7200 square foot building on Airport Park Boulevard. It’s in the old Mendocino Animal Hospital, and would-be veterinary clients still stop in almost every day, looking for medications or treatments for their pets. (The new location for the Animal Hospital is 290 East Gobbi Street.) A few other hints of the previous tenant remain, too, like images of paw prints running across the ceiling tiles in the reception area. There are also plenty of hand-washing opportunities, with a sink in every room.

Sands, who got used to no running water in the warehouse, exulted over the amenities. 

“I know it seems kind of silly, like oh, a building with a restroom, but to us, that’s a big deal,” she explained, adding that the building has lots of natural light, central air and heat, washers and dryers, a kitchen, and break rooms for clients and volunteers. That’s in addition to meeting rooms, storage space, shelves, and yet more rooms for the clothing, furniture, toiletries and other items for people who have lost most or all of their possessions in a disaster. Disaster Relief helps survivors with short and long term recovery, or up to five years after the incident.

Sands also runs Mendocino Action News and is an occasional contributor to KZYX. She keeps an ear tuned to the scanner, and now, with the proximity to the airport, she gets an extra heads-up when aircraft lifts off for an emergency. 

But her primary focus right now is on helping her clients, including about 20 people recovering from the Hopkins Fire. “Our most recent, I would say, would be Hopkins, Cache, and Broiler,” she said, reeling off the names of a few of last season’s fires. “But we’re also helping August Complex Fire, Oak Fire, and a couple others still,” she noted. In addition to helping survivors replace the items they lost, volunteers also help cut through bureaucratic red tape by applying for grants and rentals. “We feel like they have enough on their plate, so that’s what we’re here for,” Sands said.

One of the first rooms, just past the reception area, is a playroom for kids. On Friday afternoon, the room was strewn with fake money and playthings. “They’ve lost all their toys,” Sands noted, peering in the door. “So they can feel safe and feel like a kid and feel normal while Mom is shopping, if they need.” 

It’s not all play, though. Clients who have lost everything still need to work —  and some are expected to work from home. The new location has two offices where clients can work on their computers, “because some of them are still in these really tiny hotel rooms, some are sleeping in cars,” Sands explained. Clients can also meet there with the Red Cross, which does not have an office in Ukiah.

Disaster Relief doesn’t wait for the state to declare a disaster before helping out. “That’s not a factor for us,” Sands said. “The only thing that would change is if it was criminal intent. So if somebody in your house intentionally set a fire, I could not help them out. But I would help out all the other innocent victims in the house.”

There is a four-page needs list on the organization’s Facebook page. But right off the top of her head, Sands said rain gear is much-needed right now. And new pillows are welcome all year round.

There’s also a room full of donated supplies to put together gift bags for immediate needs. When disaster strikes, Sands and other volunteers fill their vehicles with gift bags and camping gear. “We have a couple clients right now who are still in their cars,” Sands emphasized. “So they need a Coleman stove. They need a down sleeping bag. So we make sure they have those.”

She’s grateful for everything the community has provided: washers and dryers, time, money, pallets of goods and a forklift to move them. But now, just in time for the holidays, she has one more item on her wish list. She’s mounting a capital campaign to raise the money for a down payment on the new facility.

“The Heart of Gold campaign is to raise $100,000 to secure this building,” Sands said, listing a few of the reasons she wants to stay. “We know it’s a good location. Our donors will see the actual needs list, they’ll run over to the stores nearby, and it’s easily accessible. It’s right off the freeway, so semis can pull in easily to our parking lot, the forklift’s here...this is important.”


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