Santa Barbara News-Press: Nonprofits step up during pandemic

During 2020, nonprofits stayed true to their missions of helping others, but rapidly pivoted to the needs of local residents during COVID-19, all while adhering to COVID-19 regulations and safety requirements.

Nonprofits in Santa Barbara County repaired homes to shelter in place, provided aid to wildfire victims, held free food pantries, assisted students with remote learning, supplied personal protective equipment to the public, gave small business loans, cared for seniors and their caregivers and so much more. 

The Santa Barbara Foundation, United Way of Santa Barbara County and the Hutton Parker Foundation collaborated in March to launch the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort, which provided assistance to individuals and families impacted by the coronavirus and state emergency orders as well as nonprofits actively assisting them. 

As of Oct. 31, between 34 local funders, more than $18.9 million in funding had been mobilized to support communities during the pandemic. The effort provided grants to 158 nonprofits in the county and awarded 2,362 Individual Assistance and Rental Assistance grants through the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort and CARES Act to some of the most vulnerable community members.  

In March, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County changed its model to serve the rapidly increasing need of local residents. Because the surges caused unemployment and food stamp offices to respond slower, many more individuals relied on food banks to put dinner on the table. 

The food bank opened two new warehouses in North and South County, conducted outreach to supporters, foundations and the federal government for more money to provide food, set up more than 50 safe food distribution points, created drive-through pantries, delivered to seniors, and even constructed a text-response system to keep residents informed on food distribution. 

The nonprofit managed to gain 7.6 million pounds of healthy groceries during its COVID-19 response, with volunteers packing 6,000 grocery bags per week and performing 23,000 home deliveries. According to its website, 177,000 individuals have been served, which exceeds that of any recent disaster in the county. 

Resilience Institute Santa Barbara has also partnered with the food bank to hold free curbside food pantries in front of Apolistic Assembly Church weekly, serving around 300 local families since COVID-19.

Vitamin Angels, a global public health and nutrition organization reaching at-risk mothers and children in other countries, launched its Healthy Futures Initiative to raise $500,000 to address COVID-19’s effects in vulnerable communities. 

The Santa Barbara nonprofit has also been working to fill gaps in health coverage among vulnerable communities, caused by disrupted health systems that leave malnourished pregnant women and children more vulnerable for disease and infection.

In September, the Turner Foundation was one nonprofit that provided a safe place for neighborhood kids to learn remotely as classes started up again. 

The foundation typically provides safe, secure affordable housing to low-income individuals, families and seniors along with after-school education and enrichment programs for resident youth. When COVID-19 hit, staff and volunteers saw a need for a place for the kids with parents who are essential workers to go to do their homework and receive help when they couldn’t get it at home.

They opened two remote learning centers on the Westside, where staff members communicate with teachers and parents, monitor students to ensure they stay on task, help with assignments, answer questions, check grades and encourage them to take ownership of their responsibilities. 

The Turner Foundation also provides an outdoor space for kids to safely play games and enjoy time with other kids, along with a Music and Imagination Program, a free after-school music program with private music instruction and youth jazz band rehearsals. 

Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County has been providing life-saving repairs on homes during the pandemic. The organization had to temporarily close its ReStore because of COVID-19, but other than that, volunteers continue to work. 

The organization highlights the importance of a safe, livable shelter, especially to quarantine in and shelter at home. 

In September, wildfires added onto the hardships of COVID-19, and Goleta nonprofit Direct Relief and the California Pilots Association Disaster Area Response Team partnered to fly 23 pilots out of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and deliver 100,000 KN95 respirators to residents and firefighters in Oregon’s worst-hit fire zones. 

They also provided wildfire kits to treat up to 750 people. 

Direct Relief also stepped up to the plate in early March at the start of the pandemic, committing $2 million to supply N95 masks to Sansum Clinic, along with other cities in California, large cities in the U.S. and China. 

Many other nonprofits jumped on board the mask train, including the Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara and Goleta. Already in late April, the nonprofit had sewed nearly 1,500 cloth masks to Cottage Hospital as part of the Guild Mask Making Project. 

The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade also made more than 30,000 masks as of late July, in its Most Mask Makers Challenge, which invited local volunteer seamstresses and sewists to make masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

A portion of the Bucket Brigade’s volunteers also used their own 3D printers at home to create face shields for first responders. 

In addition, the Bucket Brigade partnered with the Friendship Center, which helps aging adults and provides a respite for their family caregivers, and figured out a way to provide food security for the adult daycare center’s 375 members and their 700-plus family caregivers. 

While the Bucket Brigade delivers food to the homes of hundreds, the Friendship Center also assembled game bags full of treats, games, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles and decks of cards to help them stay entertained at home and care bags with shampoos, bath and body wash, granola bars, hand sanitizer and stress balls. 

Women’s Economic Ventures saw the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses, and created the Quick Response Loan program on March 18 to provide emergency financial support for Santa Barbara and Ventura County businesses. Within a month, the nonprofit had approved 50 loans totaling $392,500. 

WEV has been a patron of micro-businesses by providing training, coaching and loans to more than 300 local establishment owners each year. Its loans helped local establishments such as Dioji, a doggie daycare in Goleta, and Carlyle Salon in Santa Barbara survive. 

While donations decreased, interest in adoptions of animals from Santa Barbara County Shelters grew. Even local animal shelters pivoted, figuring out a way to ensure social distancing for adopters by holding meet-and-greets with dogs in yards and video chats to see pets. 

While many more nonprofits, big and small, did many more incredible things for the community during the pandemic, the list truly never ends. However, those benefiting from nonprofits and their ability to rapidly respond and pivot to new ways to help are eternally grateful.

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