In her 60 years, Janis Papineau had never asked the government for help, not even after a brain hemorrhage cut short her teaching career and left her in a wheelchair. But there she was Friday with many of her neighbors, lining up at a Claremont community center in hopes of getting federal money to rebuild.
Most had suffered catastrophic losses in the wildfires that swept through the area.
On Friday, state and federal relief agencies opened an office at Alexander Hughes Community Center to take applications from fire victims for emergency grants and low-interest loans.
One of two houses Papineau owned in Palmer Canyon burned to the ground a week ago, leaving her daughter Paige homeless.
Papineau figured her insurance might cover about $70,000 of the estimated $120,000 cost of replacing the home. For the rest, she is counting on a loan from the Small Business Administration.
"I find them very helpful and nurturing," Papineau said of the SBA workers at the community center. "We're all very hopeful."
Friday's opening was part media event, thanks to a midday visit by Gov. Gray Davis and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose appearance drew news crews and onlookers. Davis told Papineau a relief check would arrive soon, and Schwarzenegger urged her to be strong.
Both men also listened to Debra Quick's story. The freelance draftswoman lost nearly everything when the fires leveled her remote Lytle Creek cabin, which was insured.
She came to the center to apply for an SBA loan and a Federal Emergency Management Agency housing grant.
"This end of the process is working," Quick said, after securing a donated room in a local hotel. The slight, fiftyish woman, dressed in a windbreaker and sweatpants, was showing aid staffers pictures of her leveled home, which she kept in a pouch labeled "Memories." She wore a baseball-type cap with a "Lucky" logo.
Quick seemed overwhelmed by the high-wattage attention. But attention was the name of the game Friday; there were roughly as many relief representatives on hand as people needing aid. Free sandwiches and bowls of Halloween candy were laid out.
"The help here has been outstanding," said Christine Condie, who lost her home of 30 years to the fires.
She came to the center well prepared, having managed to shoot a video of most of her belongings before fleeing last Saturday. She played the video for SBA workers as she filled out a loan application.
"It's still sinking in," said Condie, 52, a Pomona police dispatcher. "They told me this will be a quick process.... I'm hoping."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Emergency Services are opening assistance centers for victims of the wildfires. The centers will provide information on how to apply for disaster grants and loans and other relief services. Hours will vary. Not all had phone numbers as of press time.
Alexander Hughes Community Center
1700 Danbury Road
Scripps Recreation Center
1154 Blue Cypress Drive
(858) 549-1161, Ext. 126
Alpine (San Diego County)
1347 Tavern Road, Suite 30
San Bernardino International Airport
105 N. Leland Norton Way
Ramona (San Diego County)
325 6th St. in the old post office
Open Monday and Tuesday only
18700 Lake Perris Drive
Source: State Office of Emergency Services
Los Angeles Times