Benicia Community Action Council is known for the many ways it helps people in need. Now it’s received a helping hand to pay off its mortgage. In turn, the agency will have a chance to provide even more assistance to those in need.

The mortgage burning—either literally or symbolically—will take place the morning of Sept. 21 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Community Building, 230 East J St. It’s a suitable site because the St. Paul’s Historic Trust, a separate fund that underwrites care of the church’s three historic buildings, is a key player in the Community Action Council (CAC) mortgage story.

That story began in the late 1990s, when Executive Director Viola Robertson sought a loan so the agency could own its building at 480 Military East. The CAC had $150,000 in hand toward the purchase—$75,000 from a federal grant program that offered financial help to communities affected by the closure of Mare Island Naval Station; $25,000 from the Solano County Board of Supervisors through then Supervisor John Silva, a believer in the CAC; $25,000 from what then was the Exxon Benicia Refinery (now Valero) with help from its spokesperson Fred Newhouse; and another $25,000 raised by the CAC itself, Robertson said.

But banks wouldn’t lend the $150,000 balance without collateral. Robertson was willing to put up her own home, but admitted, “That would have been a terrible hardship.”


Lisa Duncan Photography

St. Paul's Church

Fred Railsback, president of the CAC Board and active with the St. Paul’s Historic Trust, proposed a “win-win” solution: The trust would lend $150,000 from its endowment fund at 6 percent interest for 25 years. The CAC would have its building and the endowment fund would earn interest on its loan.

Monthly payments originally were $1,120, dropping in recent years to $980, Robertson said.

But the CAC could use that money for other reasons. Known as someone who stretches a dollar farther than anyone, Robertson uses CAC resources to help indigent people with food and utility bills or rent payments. The CAC helped 175 families file income taxes. It serves 60 meals daily to the elderly. It offers job training and resume assistance and conducts money-managing workshops.

The agency sent 50 children this year to a Salvation Army camp, provided backpacks full of school supplies to 103 children and distributed swim passes at Benicia’s Lemos Aquatic Center to children of low-income families. It helps older people stay in their homes.

The CAC itself manages two homes, in Fairfield and Vallejo, with 10 beds for discharged patients who have no safe place for recuperation.

It provides transitional housing for the homeless. “We’re required to have 60 clients,” Robertson said. It handles 70. One man lived by the Scandia theme park, bathing in its fountain. His story broke her heart, she said.

Like every nonprofit, the CAC needs money to do more. So Valero Benicia Refinery decided proceeds from this year’s annual Sporting Clay Invitational Shoot June 29 would pay off the remaining $63,000 mortgage. That was the goal, anyway.

Drawing tickets alone brought in more than $24,000. With income from 41 teams and 162 participants, including 54 Valero employees, the event netted $100,000 for the CAC, said Sue Fisher Jones, who recently retired from the refinery and who volunteered for the event.

Once the mortgage is satisfied, the remaining money likely will go to replace the CAC’s old phone system and its aging computers, so the agency can operate more efficiently, she said.

The main mortgage-burning celebration will take place at St. Paul’s Parish, Friday, September 21, 9:30-11am, with admission being donations of nonperishable foods to the Food Bank Of Contra Costa and Solano. Robertson said she also wants the CAC to have an open house that day, so generous donors “can see where their money goes.”