POPLAR — Exactly one week following Poplar's devastating community fire which took several businesses and homes, close to 20 doctors, medical students and mental health professionals from Kaweah Health Street Medicine visited the tiny community to offer their services.
“Basically what we are doing here today is providing a little free clinic,” said Medical Student Nicole Williams. “We have suture supplies, can test glucose levels with a glucometer and take blood pressure readings.”
The Street Medicine program includes physicians, residents, and community volunteers — all of which were on hand at the Larry Itlion Research Center on Friday morning.
“We see what the patient's needs are. We can give them antibiotics if they need them and we have them on hand, otherwise doctors can write a prescription for any we might not have or if they need a different medication,” said Medical Student Christine Do.
The purpose of the program, said Ana Lopez, Kaweah Health Coordinator is to provide medical direction for the homeless, offering basic care and referrals in addition to checking oxygen and hemoglobin levels.
“Several of the people who have been displaced are homeless now,” said Mari Perez-Ruiz, executive director of Central Valley Empowerment Alliance. “Of the 12 people who were displaced, two are living at Arturo's (Rodriguez) home. One lives in another home, four are living in their cars and three are going from home to home, staying different places.”
The first room at the Center was used for assessments and triaging — determining the severity of the need — before seeing a physician.
Business owners who lost their businesses in the fire were among those being seen Friday.
“This service is wonderful,” said Hector Cabrera who lost a meat market in the fire and was suffering anxiety attacks. “They said all looks good. I'm happy with the results.”
Aziez Hassan said he and Anees Muthana, owners of the market lost in the fire, had bad first-degree burns on their hands, arms and face. They were in the store's office attempting to save some of the papers and cash from a drawer of the store's large safe when the wall behind the safe caved in on top of them. Fortunately, he said, they all managed to run out.
“It was bad,” said Hassan showing his hands and arms. “And look at my face. I couldn't stand it when it happened. It still hurts a lot, especially when I get them wet with water.”
Some of people there were also taking advantage of talking with mental health personnel, said Perez-Ruiz.
“This is the second time (Street Medicine) is here but our goal is to have them come twice a month,” she said. “Our goal right now is to focus on cleanup.”
As long as the burned businesses are there, she said, it will remain as a dark spot in the business owners' lives.
“The market was more than a market. It was an incubator for the start of many businesses. Anees often offered a first year of no rent and had different businesses start in there,” Perez-Ruiz said. “That infrastructure is now gone. I hope cleanup can happen quick.”
Some of it already had.
Though the garage/multi-purpose room of the Larry Itliong Research Center still had a burnt roof that needs replacing, the building itself was deemed safe.
Boxes packed with food filled large racks which lined both sides of the building. Under the back patio, dozens of volunteers prepared grocery bags with canned foods, vegetables, boxed milk, rice, noodles and fresh vegetables. Hygiene items were also available for the fire victims.
“We always have between 300 and 400 boxes to give away. We do this each Friday,” said Ruth Martinez, a volunteer who also sits on the CV Empowerment Agency board of directors.
Also there volunteering were several members of The Grace Project. The group has 30 members and five of them were there Friday.
“We learned of the fire and came to help,” said Joe Trujillo. “I met with Mari (Perez-Ruiz) and told her we will take care of the backpacks that were lost in the fire. I think the community's going to help out. We will be reaching out to churches and trying to bring everyone together for one cause. I believe out of the ashes will come rest because with God all things are possible.”
Trujillo said he brought his two daughters, Alexis and Kaelin as volunteers.
When he heard about the fire, Trujillo said he called Fred Beltran of the Porterville Area Coordinating Council.
“I asked him, 'How do we help?' He said they were having an emergency meeting on Wednesday at the water district (Poplar Community Service District),” Trujillo said. “That's when I told them, we will take care of the backpacks that way the kids will still have them for school.”
But whatever they can help with, he said, they will be there.
Arturo Rodriguez, communications and organizing director of CV Empowerment Alliance said a lot of things still need to happen.
“It is humbling and grounding and encouraging to see that up until this incident, people who were once strangers are now sweating with us,” Rodriguez said. “I think we are going to be bringing this community home.”
The Service Community, whether church based or organization based, will all work together, he said.
On Friday, the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber and Porterville Area Coordinating Council met with Central Valley Empowerment Alliance.
“It was a strategy session to talk of how we can continue being in business,” Rodriguez said. “The Chamber talked about disaster relief loans and advised we petition Kevin McCarthy so we are going to be reaching out to them.”