Montecito Center Latest

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 22, 2018
Julia Larson, Kristen LaBonte, and Suzanne McCafferty help to clean photos and art at La Casa de Maria. Suzanne has been a volunteer for the project and also co-produced the Montecito Community Panel discussion on January 31.

Two weeks ago, we reported on the opening of the Montecito Center for Preparedness, Recovery, and Rebuilding, in the Orfalea building on Coast Village Circle. Last week, the newly-formed “805 Conservation Collective” set up shop at the center, adding another resource for mudslide victims to access in the heart of Montecito. “The work is both emotional and technical, and we are so happy to be able to offer help to mudslide victims,” said project rep Melissa Barthelemy, who sat down with us earlier this week. 

Volunteers worked on hundreds of photos, albums, and important documents at the Saving Memories From Mud event at Montecito Library

The Collective comprises a group of volunteers who salvage and preserve damaged personal items from the wreckage of the 1/9 debris flow. The project was born after the success of a February event at Montecito Library called “Saving Memories from Mud,” in which a professional paper conservator offered free assessments of damaged items and guidance to residents seeking to preserve their precious memorabilia, including photo albums, diplomas, awards, and important documents. The conservator discovered extensive mold on the materials she examined, which poses a high risk to the items and anyone that handles them. “We quickly realized the need was much greater than a one-day event, and that there was a critical need within the community,” Barthelemy said. 

Barthelemy is a Ph.D. student at UCSB, and is a consultant on community tragedies. Her dissertation is on the after effects of the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy, and she is the liaison between the campus and the families of the victims. “Helping with this effort was a perfect fit for me,” she said, adding that the project of preserving memories hits close to home; her family home in Ojai burned down when she was 8 years old and the only items to survive the blaze were a stack of family photo albums. The home was damaged again in the Thomas Fire in December. “I feel like I have a personal connection to this work,” she said. Others leading the project include Kristen LaBonte, reference librarian at UCSB and head of the Central Coast Disaster Preparedness and Response Network, Julia Diane Larson, a reference archivist at AD&A Museum, and Rebecca Metzger, associate university librarian at UCSB. 

The conservation of paper materials requires a two-step process. Phase one, salvaging and stabilization, includes meeting with the families and evaluating, separating, bagging, and freezing their belongings to kill the mold. Two industrial-strength freezers have been trucked in from Los Angeles; one is housed at Westmont, along with a high-powered generator on which it operates, the other is located at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff Carpinteria substation, which has become the hub for items lost in the debris flow. The Collective is working closely with the Sheriff’s Department, helping to catalog all items that have been turned in, and trying to remove dangerous mold before staff is exposed. Many of the items found were discovered by the Bucket Brigade, which is also a partner in the effort. An open house at the sheriff’s substation is in the works, where members of the community who’ve lost their homes will be invited to see if any of their belongings were found and turned in. 

Grant Dyruff, a member of the Montecito Boy Scouts Troop and friend of victim Dave Cantin, has helped retrieve the Cantins’ belongings and is helping with their conservation with the 805 Conservation Collective

Once items have been frozen for 72 hours, they are thawed and vacuumed with a special tool; this process is being offered for free to affected residents. “Very often, the photos and valuables are returned to owners after this process. If they need more conservation, our professional conservator will evaluate them and continue to work on them in the pop-up lab at the Montecito Center,” Barthelemy said. This work is done on a fee basis. Basic conservation services offered include cleaning and mending of photographs, documents, children’s art, letters, posters, and works of art on paper.  

The group has worked on a plethora of belongings, including photographs and art damaged at La Casa de Maria, the Olympic awards belonging to Olive Mill resident Jeff Farrell, and family photos belonging to the Cantin family, whose patriarch, Dave Cantin, perished in the debris flow, and son Jack Cantin is considered missing but presumed dead. “It’s really heart-wrenching, but we know we are doing great and meaningful work,” Barthelemy said. 

“This is a community grass-roots effort, and we are thankful to any monetary help we can get,” Barthelemy said, adding that a donation of $3,000 was recently received by Congregation B’nai B’rith. Partners to the project include UCSB, Westmont College, Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, and the Montecito Center. To donate, and for more information, email The group is asking those who need services to schedule an appointment via email; the Center is scheduled to be closed several days this week due to evacuations. 


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