Single mom gets help after being forced to evacuate 2 fires with her 5 children

Jessica Vega with her youngest daughter at home in Santa Rosa.
Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

It was the middle of the night when the Tubbs Fire tore through Jessica Vega’s neighborhood north of Santa Rosa in October 2017 — but Vega and her children might not have awakened had the family’s dogs not roused them.

“By the time we woke up, everyone in our neighborhood was gone,” said Vega, 35. “We looked out the window, and the only thing left was the street behind us. Everything else burnt around us.”

The incident was particularly traumatizing for Vega’s daughter Lizzett, who was 5 at the time. Then, during this October’s Kincade Fire, Vega and her family were forced to evacuate again.

Lizzett, now 7, refuses to take off her shoes when she goes to bed at night, Vega said. She keeps bags packed in her room — probably so she can quickly grab them in case they have to flee from another fire, her mother surmised. Many of her daily journal entries at school are about fires, her teacher has told Vega.

“I don’t know if her biggest fear is that the house will burn,” said Vega, a single mother who has four other children, who range in age from 1½ to 15. “But it’s that we won’t wake up and we’ll burn with the house.”

She has sought therapy for her daughter, but wait lists in the area for counseling are long, she said. Many in the community are dealing with similar struggles.

The most recent evacuations forced Vega and her children out of their home for 10 days, presenting financial and logistical challenges. They stayed in a hotel at first, but then had to rent a trailer and find parking lots to stay in because many hotels didn’t allow their dogs, Tyson and Bailey, to room with them. Meanwhile, she had to pay the full month’s rent. Vega, who typically cooks at home for her family, also had to shoulder the added cost of eating out for six people. Gas was expensive as well.

“Financially, it’s been a hard setback,” said Vega, who works at Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, a nonprofit that connects low-income residents with health and education programs. A former social worker herself for eight years, she now supervises social workers. She has held training sessions for her staff on how to refer clients to Season of Sharing, which is how she knew about the program.

Because Vega has struggled herself, she goes the extra mile to help her clients, said Maricruz Reynoso, a client services coordinator at the partnership who helped Vega with her Season of Sharing application.

“She understands them,” Reynoso said. “She goes out of her way to help them in their situation.”

Season of Sharing provided Vega with her November rent, and some car expenses, to help offset the cost of evacuating her family from October’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.

The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. The fund’s grant money is sent to service providers, such as landlords; families that benefit do not directly receive the funds.

“I’m especially very grateful because they helped me with my car expenses,” Vega said. “If it wasn’t for my car, not only would I not have been able to go to work, I wouldn’t have been able to get them to school because there was no bus service available. … I had never really asked for any help or needed anything. I’m really grateful I received it.”

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Cat_Ho

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