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Listos California: Wildfire outreach for underserved communities in San Diego

Catholic Charities in San Diego and Imperial Counties lead the charge in reaching out to diverse and vulnerable communities about emergency preparedness.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — California could face the worst wildfire season this year. The tools to be prepared may be similar but outreach is much different for underserved communities.

“We find that our diverse and vulnerable communities know they need to be prepared and want to be prepared but they are scared. They are worried that it is time-consuming and expensive,” said Karen Baker, Listos California Architect and Co-Chair.

Listos California is an arm of the state’s Office of Emergency Services started by Governor Gavin Newsom who dedicated $50 million to educate vulnerable communities about all types of disasters. Listos means “ready” in Spanish.

“We have to be able to package a campaign in a way that makes it accessible by the language [and] affordable,” said Baker.

A 289-page report shows emergency preparedness can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach for underserved communities.

Listos California reports in 2020 the pandemic and the catastrophic wildfires took a disproportionate toll on California Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders, seniors, rural residents, farmworkers, people with disabilities and people living with health conditions.

“The 20-year-olds would prefer to receive a TikTok as opposed to a Zoom training with peers,” said Baker.

From 2019 to this year, Listos California has reached out to four million vulnerable people through one-on-one phone calls, Latinx celebrities, Meals on Wheels and faith-based organizations such as Catholic Charities San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“That was one of the main focuses of Catholic Charities - meet them where they are,” said Vino Pajarnor, Catholic Charities San Diego and Imperial Counties, CEO.

Catholic Charities San Diego and Imperial Counties is a statewide Listos California leader who surpassed its 250,000 goal and met with 500,000 people.

Pajanor said it was only possible through neighbor-to-neighbor grassroots efforts with big-name partners like the Chicano Federation to neighborhood nonprofits like Echoes for Faith which helps African communities.

“It allowed us to go into communities that are trusting of their neighbor,” said Pajanor.

And trusting that our neighbors are prepared.

“We need it. Fire season is coming,” said Baker.

Listos serves 24 counties in California. The next step is to expand to more areas and address disaster recovery. 

If you or someone you know needs wildfire or emergency preparedness resources go to Listos California.

RELATED: California volunteers calling to check that you have a fire evacuation plan