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.
In July, 4 months later, nearly 65 Pajaro residents were still living in a nearby 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.
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 for bilingual case management, so it could continue to help families like the Sosas. Additionally, Kaiser Permanente employees in San Jose, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz donated a total of $7,000, which the organization matched, bringing total support to $104,000.
“This investment will build on donations from more than 2,000 individuals, groups, and businesses, and will ensure that our flood relief work will continue for Pajaro Valley residents who have lost so much,” said Tony Nunez-Palomino, Community Bridges marketing and communications manager.
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 a local hotel 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,” said Monica Chavez-Gonzales, a case manager with Community Bridges. “Agriculture workers depended on income from the fields, so they are having a hard time getting security deposits required to move in.”
Displaced and confused
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, significant needs remain in the community.
“We’re proud to support Community Bridges so it can be there for Pajaro residents long term, connecting them to housing and basic living expenses they need to recover and thrive, ” said Radford.
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.”