Tag Archives: pandemic

Ready, Set, Go! Taking Our Mission to New Heights

Realities that became clear in 2020 and, by all accounts, will prevail for the next few years, have informed how we plan to help our Community in 2021 and beyond. Whether they’re seniors in assisted living, hourly wage-earning families living in multi-generational households, or the newly unemployed confronted with joblessness due to Covid-related layoffs, we’re ready to take our mission to new heights.

It Would Be Unconscionable to “Un-See” What We Saw in 2020

– More than 1 in 14 seniors live in poverty locally

– The working poor, the bulk of our clients, still live on small fixed incomes that in no way cover typical monthly expenses

– When more than 30% of their income is earmarked for housing, nutritional food often becomes unaffordable for local seniors and others who are physically or economically vulnerable

– Food insecurity remains a huge problem in our Community with each passing year, as basic nutritional needs go unmet for children through seniors

– Population subgroups already strained economically are especially susceptible to the negative impact of unexpected events, like this most recent pandemic

– Many in our Community are homebound and have limited transportation options

– Social isolation, loneliness, and depression have spiked in the last 14 months

So What Do We Do NOW?

– Grow our inventory of food and other essentials so that not a single vulnerable, isolated, or senior resident in need of food is turned away — and allow them to shop twice a month.

– Don’t stop offering grocery deliveries to our isolated and most vulnerable clients still impacted by the pandemic.

– Expand and deepen the impact of our senior volunteer effort. We must find a way to get evenmore of the handiworks and custom gifts our senior program volunteers make into the hands and homes of those who need to feel they’ve not been forgotten!

We See Glimmers on the Horizon…

And look forward to the day very soon when our outreach will expand anew: allowing clients and their families safely inside our space to shop for exactly what they want and need, whether it’s in the Grocery and Clothing Store, in the Back-to-School Pop-Up, or in the Holiday Gift Shoppe; reopening our Volunteerism Programs in full and giving the Community the opportunity to be of service; supporting the newly jobless and youth through Job Smart, our employment readiness program; and welcoming the Community back into Gift Shoppe on State Street in search of donated but unique treasures, like clothing, jewelry, home furnishings and more!

Making It Home Tour

PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) is hosting their fourth annual Making It Home Tour on June 5th, a virtual, guided journey through the homes of PATH supporters and tenants across California. We hope that you will join us for a pre-recorded, virtual compilation of unique home tours and personal interviews connecting us all to the question, “What does home mean to you?”. 

The Making It Home Tour celebrates the meaning of home. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated an already pervasive problem: homelessness. The necessity of staying inside to keep our communities safe has made us all even more grateful to have a place to call home. What does home mean to you? 

Event Details 

A link to the virtual event will be sent to all ticket holders in advance, and we will all come together to watch as it streams on Saturday, June 5th, 2021. 

All guests will also receive: 

– Access to a private event website to explore on their own time, with in depth tours of each home highlighted in the streamed event, and access to interactive DIY home, decor, and design workshops. 

– Event package that will be mailed to your home the week of the event, to enjoy as we watch together on June 5th. Event packages include exclusive PATH wine glasses, premium wine, travel safe charcuterie items, and more. Please see ticket types for details on each package. 

Tickets can be purchased https://www.eventbrite.com/e/path-making-it-home-tour-tickets-142755408269

All proceeds from this event go towards PATH’s mission of ending homelessness for individuals, families, and communities.

For more information about PATH, visit www.epath.org.

Women In Leadership: A Discussion Hosted By Leading From Within And Touchstone Central Coast

In honor of Women’s History Month, local nonprofit, Leading From Within, joined with Touchstone Central Coast to host a virtual presentation and panel discussion recently called Women in Leadership: A Discussion for Everyone.

“The pandemic of 2020, unfortunately, has created a loss of nearly 3 million women in the workforce,” explained Touchstone Central Coast co-creator Emily Smith. 

“This past year threatens to wipe out all the progress made over the last several decades to close the gender gaps and if not addressed will exacerbate existing inequalities,” she urged.  Smith facilitated the discussion along with co-creator and business partner Diane Adam, a Leading From Within Katherine Harvey Fellows alumna.

The presentation and panel provided an outline for “Servant Leadership,” a model that empowers the team over the individual and examined how to support and create more positive environments for women in the workforce. 

Panelists included Connie Alexander, founder/co-executive director of Gateway Educational Services; Nancy Gastelum, associate professional clinical counselor and nonprofit executive; Petra Gomez, Ed.D candidate at USC and program manager, the Santa Barbara Foundation; Sarah Kirwan, CEO/founder of Eye Level Communications; Pamela Macal, CEO McDonald’s Central Coast; Simonne Mitchelson, South Coast estate manager for Jackson Family Wines; and Sevelyn VanRonk, Ph.D candidate at Claremont Graduate University and senior manager of People Strategy of BlueShield, CA.

“Covid-19 has disrupted the workplace in ways we’ve never seen before,” said Smith. “The boundaries between work and home have blurred, workplace structures have shifted, employees lost jobs experiencing financial distress, and burnout has become rampant.” 

Smith says it’s been particularly challenging for women who were more likely to be laid-off or furloughed, and who often struggle more intensely with the balance of childcare and work.

“We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work,” was a quote attributed to Amy Westervelt and used in the presentation to demonstrate some of the challenges that women face.

These challenges can present an opportunity to reevaluate and restore critical leadership qualities. Smith queried the 90 zoom participants who shared qualities that they believe define a strong leader, and discussed timeless leadership attributes and the benefits of a service leader mindset.  

First coined by AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership turns the idea of traditional workplace leadership on its head, focusing on empowering and uplifting others rather than commanding from a position of power or authority.

“Servant leaders prioritize other people’s well-being and growth, share power, and enable their team to grow, develop and perform to the best of their ability,” said Smith. This approach aims to increase retention rates, provide greater collaboration, create a more positive work environment, support a culture of belonging and foster leadership everywhere. 

The presentation focused on increasing and honoring women in the workplace; Smith noted that companies that don’t encourage women to join them are missing out on talents and abilities of over half the population. 

“Multiplicity of perspectives can spark creativity and innovation and inclusivity boosts morale and opportunity,” she said. She quoted a study by management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company that found the most gender-diverse companies are 21 percent more likely to experience above average profitability.

A panel of female leaders candidly shared thoughts and experiences after the 40-minute presentation, reflecting upon their own successes, challenges and sources of inspiration. 

VanRonk revealed a core message learned from her mentor: that when we say yes to things that are draining us, we have less time for things that could benefit us. “No is a complete sentence.”

“The best leadership gift we have is our time,” said Macal.  “How you choose to spend time with your people and how you choose to make time for your family are integral,” she said, noting that showing up, being supportive and making time for Sunday family dinners is essential.

Alexander, who is participating in the Courage to Lead program at Leading From Within, shared wisdom that she refers to as “holy boldness.”  “In navigating situations, you have to be able to acknowledge and name things that you perceive as wrong because if you don’t then you end up pushing back, and so the lesson I learned is to walk right into those tough conversations and show up with some holy boldness,” she explained. 

Kirwan shared a story about the mentor at her first job out of college and how her female boss instructed her solely on what to wear (stockings, suit and heels). It’s a lesson that’s informed her own mentorship style, which Kirwan says concentrates on empowerment, building confidence, having empathy and teaching young woman to own their value — with or without the heels.

The panel also shared impressions of what Leading with Love means to them. “Being honest, having integrity, and giving back to the community by providing resources and support to others,” said Gomez.

“Self-care is critical,” said Mitchelson, who candidly shared that she always felt “other” coming from an immigrant family raised in a majority white Michigan town. This feeling followed her to the Central Coast where she said it’s difficult to find people who look like her in management, or even in the wine tasting rooms. “It’s important to know and love yourself and to bring that love into your leadership.”

Gastelum stressed the importance of mental health, crediting her own meditation practice with granting her the space to focus and reflect. She also encouraged the value of hope as being a catalyst for vision and fortitude. 

“For me, it’s that loving moment when you can put the oxygen back in the room after watching it go out,” said Alexander. “It’s giving breathe and making space to ensure the little brown girls that I serve get the equity they deserve.” 

Leading From Within was honored to partner with Touchstone Central Coast to offer this forum. The nonprofit has remained active throughout the pandemic by collaborating with other organizations to continue offering learning opportunities for their extensive network of local leaders.  For more information, visit http://leading-from-within.org.

Touchstone Central Coast provides support and training to individuals and organizations desiring to learn, grow, and lead with a servant’s heart. For more information on upcoming workshops, visit https://www.touchstonecc.com.

2020: A Challenging (and Rewarding) Year Like No Other…

2020 was a year like no other, and it confirmed for us that nothing – not even a worldwide pandemic – could hamper Unity Shoppe’s dedication to the people of Santa Barbara, especially those who felt most vulnerable or experienced sudden job loss and needed a place to turn during this crisis. 

Led by our fearless founder, Barbara Tellefson, we quickly moved into high gear, consolidating all of our programs and services down to distributing food alone in a way that was safe and would help as many people as possible without losing site of our 100-year-old mission: to offer people choice in what they receive and to do so without compromising their dignity or self-respect. 

We quickly secured PPE, kept our essential staff and our Community’s most at-risk members healthy and safe, followed all safety guidelines, and met intense cleanliness standards. By doing so we were able to accommodate residents who could shop at Unity directly and receive free groceries they picked out themselves: farm fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated dairy products, poultry and beef, bread and baked goods, and canned and boxed staples too. The need for food has been so critical over this past year that we worked hard to ensure our clients, many of whom were families of 4-5 people, could shop for everything they needed every other week (up from only once per month in pre-Covid times). Hours were extended and front of the line privileges and automatic car loading assistance was offered to anyone who needed it by our essential staff, much like at any other supermarket around town. But not everyone was able to shop in person; for immuno-compromised, disabled or homebound residents from Goleta to Carpinteria, we instituted a highly sought after delivery service of groceries they pre-selected and we delivered right to their door.

For more information about Unity Shoppe, visit www.unityshoppe.org.

Feeding Our Community: The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Adjusts to Meet Our COVID Needs

To say that the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has been busy is an understatement – the nonprofit distributed 9,708,944 pounds of food over the course of a year, including some four million-plus pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Sounds like a lot, right? 

Sure, but that’s the year preceding the COVID crisis in California.

From March 9, 2020, to March 8, 2021, the Foodbank doled out 18,421,361 pounds of food, including just shy of eight million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

To get there, it took an operational plan to place a priority on both feeding the county, but also doing it safely for all involved.

When the pandemic began to pervade Santa Barbara County in mid-March 2020, it resulted in an increase in need for healthy sustenance due to the mandatory stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, and lockdowns. 

This is not to mention the viral infection taking hold, but the Foodbank stepped up – quickly.

Within weeks, the organization whose formal mission is to transform hunger into health by eliminating food insecurity through good nutrition and food literacy, pivoted to abide by the new protocols. 

The Foodbank created the Safe Access to Food for Everyone (SAFE) Food Net, working with government disaster response agencies and nonprofits, as well as the education, healthcare, and business sectors to establish more than 50 SAFE Food Net distribution locations. 

These sites were in neighborhoods throughout the county so residents could safely find sustenance near their own homes. More than 20 of the locations even offered complete no-contact, drive-thru service for enhanced safety.

Among other programs, Foodbank also launched a home-delivery service that provided 1,500 low-income, high-risk seniors already partaking of its Brown Bag program with boxes of healthy groceries and fresh produce food delivered to their doors. The nonprofit also tripled the program, enrolling more than 3,000 additional seniors in home delivery and adding other households that were experiencing severe medical circumstances.

How was the nonprofit able to respond so rapidly with a massive upscaling to meet the unprecedented demand? The organization isn’t new to disaster, especially two years removed from the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow.

“I think we’d become a little bit complacent before the fire and debris flows,” Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin explained. “They enabled us to really rethink our approach and increase our ability to respond to a disaster over a long period of time and avoid staff burnout.” 

Of course, the pandemic required a completely different kind of pivoting, he said. 

“Obviously foodbanks have been all about trying to get people to come to one place and get large amounts of food at one time. That wasn’t going to work with COVID, where that would be the last thing you would want to do,” Talkin said. “So we had to really upend our model and learn to do new things to build that capacity and scale up.” 

That included finding ways of storing and moving much more food than before, which the Foodbank solved temporarily by borrowing two additional warehouses to augment its current facilities. 

But that didn’t solve how to find people who weren’t familiar with how the program worked. 

“That was a real challenge, having to identify a system where people could indicate they needed food delivered so we could plan routes and get volunteers to drive those routes and make sure that they received food in a safe fashion,” Talkin said.

A First-Time Experience

Since COVID hit Santa Barbara County, the Foodbank has supplied 18,421,361 pounds of food

The pandemic produced food insecurity among people who work in the tourism-related services, or even restaurants and other food industries.

These people never imagined they would need this kind of help. 

“With the pandemic, so many people need help. It’s affected a wide variety of people. Who are we to say who is the type of person we want to serve? There’s so many people of all sorts who need help,” explained Talkin, who has published Lulu and the Hunger Monster, a children’s picture book that aims to enable kids to feel fine if they or their family needs help with food.

Now that many county residents have already been fully vaccinated, and with increased supply of the three approved vaccines, can we expect the Foodbank to return to its pre-pandemic programs?

Not so fast, said Talkin. 

“Although the pandemic is winding down, the need for our services is not realistically going to be dramatically reduced for another 18-24 months,” he said. “People have built up a lot of debt. People are still unemployed or underemployed. And the federal subsidies are coming to an end. All the studies that we’re doing and the national studies from the Congressional Budget Office related to unemployment show there will be a need for emergency food at much larger levels right through most of 2022.”

So, no, the Foodbank won’t be scaling back services in the near term. 

And it will be keeping some of the lessons that it has learned, including how it operates educational programs, with some staying online even after it is safe to be in-person.

All this increase in demand and services, of course, means a continued need for financial support – even though the Foodbank continues to turn $1 donations into eight meals.

That’s courtesy of volume purchasing and strong partnerships with farmers and other food partners. 

But it does have one need – a new facility in Santa Barbara.

Currently, the Foodbank is working out of a small, converted fire station with no loading dock, causing it to lean heavily on its North County warehouse.

That means it needs to truck all the food down, which Talkin says doesn’t “make sense environmentally.”

“Or worse yet, if there is an earthquake or other disaster and the roads are cut off. So finding land or a location to build a new South County warehouse is a big focus for us at the moment,” Talkin said.

While a donation leading to solving that problem would of course be more than welcome, Talkin noted that everything helps.  

“Our greatest need is for the community to engage with us in whatever way they feel comfortable,” he said. 

“I’m just amazed at the community’s response and how they’ve supported us already. I think it’s because they know it’s absolutely vital to have a strong Foodbank for a resilient community. That’s how you keep people fed and healthy during a challenge.”

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Receives Consecutive 4-Star Rating from Charity Navigator for Six Consecutive Years

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC) is again proud to announce our sixth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. Less than 12% of charities receive six consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics continues to demonstrate strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. 

Since 2002, using objective analysis, Charity Navigator has awarded only the most fiscally responsible organizations a 4-star rating. In 2011, Charity Navigator added 17 metrics, focused on governance and ethical practices as well as measures of openness, to its ratings methodology. These Accountability & Transparency metrics, which account for 50 percent of a charity’s overall rating, reveal which charities operate in accordance with industry best practices and whether they are open with their donors and stakeholders. On June 1, 2016, Charity Navigator upgraded their methodology for rating each charity’s financial health. These enhancements further substantiate the financial health of the 4-star charities. 

“This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness,” according to Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator. “We are proud to announce Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics has earned our sixth consecutive 4-star rating. This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way,” 

“Only a quarter of charities rated by Charity Navigator receive the distinction of our 4-star rating. This adds Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics a preeminent group of charities working to overcome our world’s most pressing challenges. Based on its 4-star rating, people can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.” 

The pandemic has challenged us like never before. Thanks to our amazing clinical staff, in collaboration with the skilled support staff and led by our competent administration leadership and selfless, dedicated volunteer board, we have remained open to serve our patients with respect and compassion as we struggled with this enormous challenge.” states Charles Fenzi, MD, CEO/CMO.” 

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics rating, and other information about charitable giving, are available free of charge on www.charitynavigator.org. More-detailed information about Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics rating is available to Charity Navigator site visitors who become registered users, another free service.

About SBNC

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics is comprised of two dental clinics, four medical clinics, and three intermittent clinics, all offering behavioral health services, that served over 22,000 individuals in the community over the past year and is an independent, nonprofit health-care organization dedicated to providing high quality, affordable, medical, dental and behavioral healthcare to those in need in Santa Barbara County, regardless of one’s ability to pay, in an environment that fosters respect, compassion and dignity.

About Charity Navigator 

Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, is the largest charity evaluator in America and its website attracts more visitors than all other charity rating groups combined. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health, Accountability and Transparency of more than 8,000 charities. Charity Navigator accepts no advertising or donations from the organizations it evaluates, ensuring unbiased evaluations, nor does it charge the public for this trusted data. As a result, Charity Navigator, a 501 (c) (3) public charity itself, depends on support from individuals, corporations and foundations that believe it provides a much-needed service to America’s charitable givers. Charity Navigator, can be reached directly by telephone at (201) 818-1288, or by mail at 139 Harristown Road, Suite 101, Glen Rock, N.J., 07452.

More Than $13 Million in Rental and Utility Assistance Funds Made Available by the County of Santa Barbara through United Way of Santa Barbara County

Grants intend to prevent homelessness by providing rent assistance to residents. Grant applications can be found by visiting unitedwaysb.org/rent.

United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has more than $13 million in rental and utility assistance funds generously allocated by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for eligible County of Santa Barbara residents, that have experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Emergency Rent Assistance Program is intended to prevent homelessness by providing rent assistance to residents who can demonstrate the need for rental support.

Upon application approval, applicants may receive up to $6,000 over 3 months toward rental and utility expenses. Applicants can re-apply every 3 months up to maximum of 15 months. Assistance payments to applicants will be paid directly to landlord and/or utility providers on behalf of the applicant.

 “This rental and utility support is a lifeline for families who are dealing with the myriad of economic impacts due to COVID-19,” said Steve Ortiz, President and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County. “We are honored to have the County of Santa Barbara’s trust and partnership as we work to distribute these funds and provide significant relief to Santa Barbara County individuals and families during these difficult times,” said Ortiz.

The program will be available to all county residents at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), though qualifying individuals at or below 50 percent AMI will be prioritized. This program has strict eligibility requirements.

The program application process opened February 15 and will be available until all funds are expended or by December 30, 2021, whichever is first. To review eligibility requirements and to apply, please visit www.unitedwaysb.org/rent

About United Way of Santa Barbara County 

United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has the unique and positive vision that “in our community, everyone has a hopeful future.” Since 1923, UWSBC has served Santa Barbara County community through funding, volunteer development, and by utilizing its own unique initiatives that involve dozens of local nonprofit and public sector agencies. UWSBC’s local community driven Power of Partnership™ priorities help children, families and seniors with a focus on Education, Income and Health. To learn more, please visit unitedwaysb.org

Easy Lift

Several years ago, my elderly neighbor gave up driving due to recurring hip injuries and a debilitating autoimmune disease. Sometimes I’d look across our cottage complex and notice a taxi waiting to take her to doctor appointments or grocery shopping – she was old-fashioned enough to not even own a smartphone, so Lyft and Uber were out of the question. Finally, after trading in her walker for a wheelchair, she found out about Easy Lift, the Santa Barbara nonprofit whose mission is to restore some dignity to the disabled through providing mobility.

Now I’d peer out the window to see the nonprofit’s easily recognizble Dial-a-Ride vans pulling up to her door, and watch the friendly, always punctual driver lower the mechanical lift and then wheel Rose into the van before making sure she was secure in her seat. Then the van would take her wherever she wanted to go, whether to get medical treatment or pick up prescriptions or even to just go visit a park. The rides cost a mere $7 roundtrip, just a fraction of what two cab rides used to set her back, a godsend on her fixed income as a retiree. 

It was one of the things that made life worth living, I remember her telling me. “Stories like that warm my heart,” says Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s longtime executive director. “It’s what has kept me motivated and inspired over all these years because for a lot of people, we are truly their only line of transportation and connection to our community.”

Paredes admits he didn’t always feel that way, at least not when he first started at the organization back in 1991, 12 years after Easy Lift began operations and just one year after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect. 

“Back then I thought I’d be with this nonprofit for a year to get some experience and then I’ll move on to somewhere else,” he says. “I thought transportation wasn’t sexy, it’s not sheltering someone or feeding someone, it’s just access. But you don’t realize the importance of transportation until you don’t have it.”

Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s executive director, with Ron Werft, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cottage Health

Just think about when you drop off your car at the mechanic for the day and you’re dependent on someone else to pick you up and then take you back again, Paredes suggests. “You can really feel helpless, and it’s just one day,” he says. “That’s the way some people feel every single day, like prisoners in their homes unless they have a service like Easy Lift to get them out.”

With that principle in mind, Easy Lift has grown to provide, via its fleet of 30 vans, an average of 300 rides a day on demand for the elderly, disabled, and anyone physically or cognitively unable to ride MTD, even temporarily, plus nearly 1,000 rides per month for low-income Medi-Cal residents to travel to and from non-emergency medical appointments through a partnership with CenCal Health. 

The ongoing pandemic has put a dent in that demand, of course, anywhere from 40-60 percent depending on restrictions, Paredes said, as the ill and elderly are most vulnerable to suffer serious effects from contracting COVID-19, so voluntary trips have declined drastically. But, Paredes points out, those who require treatment like dialysis can’t just postpone it. So the drivers, whom the ED calls the heart of the organization, have stayed true to the task, working diligently to comply with the CDC guidelines for distancing and disinfecting, although, Paredes says, it’s almost impossible for them to be six feet apart at all times because they have to secure the wheelchairs to the floorboards.

“We try to prepare them and educate them and give them the proper tool, but they’re the ones who put themselves in harm’s way,” he says. “That just tells you how great our drivers are.” 

When the pandemic first forced the stay-at-home orders and demand decreased, Paredes also arranged for idle vans to be used to support the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to transport food from their storage area on Hollister to its locations in North County. Easy Lift also stepped up to take over for HELP of Carpinteria, the all-volunteer nonprofit that provides similar door-to-door transportation service to non-driving residents of that city, because the organization would have had to shut down as most of its drivers were seniors who themselves wanted to shelter at home. 

“We spoke to their board and their executive director and offered to continue transporting their seniors free of charge, which we’re still doing today,” Paredes said. “It’s really about looking out for our brother and sister nonprofits because we’re all in this together. The pandemic has made a lot of us closer because of what our community members are going through. And it’s also given me and my fellow EDs a chance to shift from merely managing our organizations to really leading, look at our business models and see if they’re still effective.” 

That spirit is what drives Paredes to let potential donors know that while his organization can always use more funds – partly because people often mistakenly think that Easy Lift is part of the MTD system, he said – he wants donations to go where they’re most required. 

“We always need ongoing support, but we’re not trying to create a war chest of money,” he says. “I’m a community member first. If there are other organizations that need the money more than us, we should help the ones that are really suffering. Just follow your heart.” •MJ

Easy Lift
www.easylift.org
(805) 681-1181

United in Crisis and Community

For the nonprofits that matter, mission statements are much more than words on paper. They are the foundation of that organization’s future, and statements of commitment. 

In 2020, after four months of board-led strategic planning, the nearly 100-year-old United Way of Santa Barbara County updated its mission and vision to better reflect its role and responsibility in guiding the community during times of natural, economic, and public health crises, as well as times of stability. 

“To enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery.”

As with declining local and national academic scores, the Thomas Fire or the debris flow, United Way coordinated a powerful community-wide mobilization in the wake of COVID-19. While only having a full-time staff of 17 and 45 temporary staff each year, the organization expands its capabilities by engaging with partners in philanthropy, the nonprofit community, and public agencies to: raise $10.1 million for COVID-response efforts; support 2,500 individuals and families with funding to meet basic needs; all while providing 40,600 students with unique academic programming in partnership with school districts. 

One of those students, an eight-year-old girl, was failing to attend her virtual classes because she was so busy helping her two younger siblings with their remote learning and homework. 

“We have been here as a solid organization that adapts quickly and then delivers results,” says President and CEO Steve Ortiz, himself a 15-year-veteran of United Way. 

For Ortiz, assessing and responding to varying community needs is what United Way was built for. The organization is built on measuring results so that every one of its programs – whether supporting students or mitigating the fallout of the deepest public health crisis our generation has known – is built out of data and continuously improved. And unlike most other nonprofits, its history gives it credibility as a convener, a quality it uses to forge the partnerships needed to respond to the most pressing issues the community faces. 

“We are too small to be able to accomplish everything we do alone,” Ortiz says. “If we are able to set goals that are aligned with one another, we bring together our strengths for a much stronger result” – the united way.  

Feeding Hungry People During a Rolling Crisis

When disaster struck in the form of COVID lockdowns and an unfolding economic crisis, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County was ready. 

In response to the deadly double blow of the Thomas Fire and debris flow, the Foodbank developed a comprehensive “Emergency Feeding Plan,” which mapped out how to respond to a wide range of disasters. It hinges on coordinating emergency feeding plans across the county and alongside at least 300 partner agencies. 

“The need immediately jumped by 250% after COVID,” says Marketing and Communications Manager Judith Smith-Meyer. “Relationships are a cornerstone of the Emergency Plan. When we needed to act, we were ready and we did it.” 

A sad truth about the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic is the profile of those coming to the Foodbank. In South Santa Barbara County, an area so reliant on tourism, service workers have found themselves scrambling to make ends meet. Carpinteria saw needs rise some 300%, according to Smith-Meyer. 

“Precipitous job losses have left thousands of households facing food insecurity for the first time, and many struggle even more than usual to make ends meet,” says Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin. “We’ve seen countless new visitors hesitate to receive food, saying, ‘I don’t want to take food from someone who needs it more.’”

When a Foodbank client named Kathy’s new full-time job fell through in April, 2020, she didn’t know what to do. She had to feed her children, and came to rely on a no-contact drive through run by the Foodbank. “At least I don’t have to worry about my kids having enough healthy food to eat until we get the job thing sorted out,” Kathy says. By press time she was still unemployed. 

As federal stimulus programs fade, and those on the margins are crushed by an ailing economy, the Foodbank will be there. 

“The most important thing the Foodbank wants our community to know is that we are ready, and we are here for everyone,” Talkin says.