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Compassion, cash and caring helps front line workers impacted by Montecito crisis

A locally spawned relief group for front-line workers has led to hundreds of checks to help them get through the impacts of the Montecito mud disaster and loss of work.

It’s considered one of the most unique signs of giving ever seen by a community in the country.

“It really proves that most people are good,” said donor Robyn Freedman. “You know, it’s not about how much you give, it’s about how many people give it.”

Since the massive January 9th Montecito mud flow catastrophe, the two-week freeway shut down, hundreds of ruined properties, and the devastating impact to local businesses, those already living on the edge have been pushed now to the edge of their finances. In some cases beyond broke, in the red with mounting debts.

“I was mostly thinking to myself I don’t know when this is going to end. I don’t know when I will be able to go back to work,” said Jane Murray, a server at Lucky’s restaurant on Coast Village Road. “I wasn’t really confident about staying in Santa Barbara, to be honest.”

Even with its glossy reputation for the upscale dining and trendy bar, when Lucky’s is empty, everyone goes home with a bad payday. That’s what the disaster served up.

“I was scared. I really didn’t know what the long-term effects were going to be, or if people were going to come back to Montecito,” said Murray.

Scanning the internet you can see many people who were out of options, and turned to the modern donation pages. They asked anyone and everyone for money to help them keep going. Without asking questions, through the sites, donations were made.

Then there were those in dire need who did not ask for help on the internet. They ran out of money and were in a crisis they never saw coming. They still wanted to work, but the job was on hold or gone.

“They are very humble and they are not used to this kind of generosity. They are in trouble and they know they are in trouble but they didn’t realize that people cared about their troubles and that they wanted to make a difference,” said Alison Hardey who owns Jeannine’s Bakery.

The quaint restaurant was closed for several days but she brought out coffee and morning treats from her other restaurants as a way to comfort those in shock and trying to regroup. That was a recipe for a community come back.

Those who needed help found those who wanted to give what they could in services or cash. A special board was posted for messages. Many people shared stories and met others they had never spoken with.

“The first persons to get hurt in these disasters are the hourly workers,” said Hardey.

Businessman Ron Blitzer knew the first week of the tragedy, the service workers were going to be paralyzed financially.

“It is a person who works at the gas station, the liquor store, the dress shop, restaurants — a lot of people we don’t see,” he said, “along with gardeners and housekeepers.”

Blitzer formed the 93108 fund.

Cash donations from the community would be directly turned around to workers with immediate needs, after a verification with their employer.

In just a few days, a check was waiting for them in a tub at Jeannine’s. Funds are made through an account established at the American Riviera Bank.

Those who apply online are reviewed by a group Blitzer has pulled together. Many of the core supporters are successful business professionals living in the area.

Freedman strongly believes in this donation concept. She has encouraged others and likes the immediate way the fund processes the requests at a critical time. “Direct is definitely the key…It’s immediate and there’s no red tape,” she said.

“And it’s a really giving community but I’ve never seen a grassroots immediate operation go into effect and get into people’s hands that need it,” said Freedman. “It’s just pretty remarkable”

Hardey has many of the front line employees who need the financial assistance, as do most of the restaurant workers. “There is so much insecurity about when are my hours, am I going to work next week…they already have tons of insecurity even if the job is there so this gives them a little bit of a cushion (they say) — even if I don’t get my hours I have this check.”

“Getting this and having the ability to have a check in my name was incredible,” said Murray who is helping non-English speaking coworkers fill out the online forms. “Regardless of whether or not the landslide happens, my landlord still wants her rent.”

At last count, there have been over 600 requests for financial help.

“It was really nice to feel the love like they wanted us to be able to work in Montecito. It was fight or flight and we stuck it out and fought,” said Murray.

“I’m beginning to see the silver lining in this tragedy. People are coming together, people are touching each other that haven’t touched or communicated before. It’s real,” said Blitzer.

“And everyone that I have handed a check to, they ask me, ‘where can I send a thank you card?’ They are so humbled by this and they don’t feel so invisible, that the community sees them and cares about them,” said Hardey.

For more information visit 93108fund.org or Jeannine’s Bakery at http://jeannines.com.

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