Once they got past the immediate shock of the January debris flow that swallowed their homes and possessions, dozens of Montecito residents sought to reclaim a sense of normalcy in their everyday lives. Housing was the biggest obstacle. Many started paying rent on top of their mortgage. Those that moved into empty spaces had nothing to bring with them.
To make these tough times just a little more manageable, Melissa Pierson opened her heart ― and her Goleta warehouse ― to the displaced. As the owner and operator of Coastal Hideaways, a Montecito real estate and interior design firm, Pierson began lending out her company’s furniture and household items. It wasn’t long before she started just giving them away. “I realized I couldn’t go back to people and say, ‘Hey, I need my furniture now,’” she explained. “They need it a lot more than I do.”
So far, Pierson has completely filled eight homes ― with beds, couches, lamps, microwaves, etc. ― and helped a dozen more families. She calculates she’s given away approximately $150,000 worth of furniture. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help.” She’s running low on mattresses and is taking donations.
Pierson called it an unfortunate assumption that all Montecitans are wealthy homeowners. Many are renters, she said, and “some lost everything.” Pierson recently furnished the home of the Benitez family, who lost four members in the disaster. She’s also assisting Ventura residents displaced by the Thomas Fire. Pierson herself was evacuated twice during the fire, her company’s bookkeeper was forced to flee Ojai for Camarillo, and her office assistant was trapped in her East Valley Road home with her husband and 5-year-old when the mud came roaring down the mountains.
Many displaced Montecito residents, however, are still looking for places to rent in town, Pierson went on. “There’s a huge waiting list of victims who need homes,” she said. “People are desperate.” So Pierson is now helping connect victims with potential places to rent and is asking the community to make offers where it can. “We really need homes, empty condos,” she explained. “Even if it’s only for a few months.”
The charity work has become a full-time job, and Pierson is contemplating one day, when the dust settles, starting a nonprofit. “It’s crossed my mind,” she said.
To make donations or offer rental opportunities, call Pierson at 969-1995 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.