North County

Small Foundation Makes Big Difference in Los Alamos

BY KARA SHOEMAKER | December 15, 2020

There’s nothing quite like the spirit of community found in a small town like Los Alamos. With a population of about 2000, it feels like everyone is either a friend, neighbor, relative, or some combination. So, when times became tough for families due to the spread of COVID-19, the community stepped up to help. At the forefront of these efforts is The Los Alamos Foundation.

Thanks to the Foodbank, Veggie Rescue, and donations from the community, each week The Los Alamos Foundation is able to distribute hundreds of pounds of food and basic necessities to those in need.

Founded in 2008, The Los Alamos Foundation has mainly focused on preserving and documenting local history and providing activities that support and enrich families and children, such as their popular Summer in the Park program. But with the impact of COVID-19 in March, it switched gears to meet changing community needs, launching a drive-through Emergency Food Pantry, thanks to a grant from the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation. The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County provides the Food Pantry with hundreds of pounds of bulk staples, which are supplemented with a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables by Veggie Rescue.

“We have received lots of support from our community and outside of it, providing the financial resources to boost what the Foodbank is able to give us,” said Monna L. Dingman, Executive Director of The Los Alamos Foundation. “We are able to purchase things like toothbrushes & paste, detergent, toilet paper, as well as things like eggs, milk, and tortillas, so we can help our families stay well fed.”

The drive-through pantry is open every Saturday from 10:00 – 11:30 AM at the Los Alamos Senior Center. Initially, the program served about 80 families a week, but that number has since grown to 150 per week. With only one paid employee, the Foundation relies primarily on its Board of Directors and adult and youth volunteers to operate the pantry. Local teens, who would usually work as camp counselors during its annual Summer in the Park program, have also stepped up as volunteers to help with staging goods and loading vehicles with food and supplies. With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, The Los Alamos Foundation plans to continue providing the Emergency Food Pantry program for as long as it is needed.

The foundation also assists the Los Alamos community by serving as the contact for 211 calls in the area. Calls are received by newly hired outreach coordinator Laura Beas-Diaz, who does so much more than just answer questions.

“Thanks in part to the Santa Barbara Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Grant, we were able to hire a young woman as our Community Outreach Coordinator who grew up in this community – our only paid position,” said Dingman. “When people started to get laid off from their jobs, not everyone was getting unemployment benefits. We have a lot of people in the community who are not English speakers, so a lot of times they are not getting benefits that they are eligible for. People come to Laura because she is Spanish speaking and trusted in the community. They come to her for help to apply for COVID EBT (food stamps,) rental assistance and unemployment benefits. She’s helped many families do the paperwork to get kids devices and hotspots to get them online for school.”

“La fundación de Monna nos ayuda mucho, entre semana viene Laura y nos trai verdura, y los fines de semana nos surte de comida, hubo tiempo que nos dieron papel del baño, rollos de cocina, pasta de dientes, jabón de lavar trastes. Es mucha ayuda que nos dan ahí personas que piensan que son pocas cosas pero cuando uno está navegando todo es ayuda” shared Los Alamos resident, Ludmila Pérez.

In English: “Monna’s foundation helps so much. Laura comes during the week and she brings us vegetables, and on weekends they supply us with food, there was a time they gave us toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, and dish soap.  It is a lot of help that they give us. Sometimes they may think they’re not giving much but for us who struggle, everything is help.”

In addition to her work with the Spanish speaking community, Beas-Diaz also receives many requests from seniors. She helps them with everything from paperwork, accessing internet and telemedicine calls, to picking up prescriptions or groceries.

But this isn’t the only way the foundation takes a hands-on approach to help the Los Alamos community. Recently, they organized Sunday workshops where Dingman and a crew of enthusiastic community members build desks for school children in need of help with remote learning.

A small group of community members, lead by Dingman, came together to build 50 desks and chairs for children in need.

“We started this because parents kept coming to Laura saying they needed help finding a desk for their kids, who are at home now trying to zoom their classes at the kitchen table, on the couch, on the bed,” explained Dingman. “I do a lot of woodworking, so I looked up forums for a plan for a kid’s desk. I texted a friend and he texted someone; in an hour we had a whole crew looking at the plans. We decided to make chairs as well, so kids could sit properly. After the first round, people started donating – the cost of the desk and chair is $35 per set. On our final build before the holidays, we made our fiftieth desk and chair.”

The foundation has since received positive feedback from thrilled parents and teachers, who have noticed that the children are able to better focus on their schoolwork now that they have a comfortable place to study. In addition to having a positive impact on local families, Dingman says that the project has also been a wonderful opportunity for residents who had been looking for ways to get involved and give back. Though they are taking a break during the holidays, they plan to continue crafting desks and chairs for families in need in the new year.

“With COVID-19, The Los Alamos Foundation quickly adjusted to address the needs of the residents. The Foundation’s work is reflective of their collaborative spirit, commitment, innovation, and heart of service!” said Petra Gomez, Santa Barbara Foundation Program Manager.

“Our job is to respond to the community. If the community says this thing is needed or that thing is needed, then we are going to find a way to do that. I think for a lot of organizations, this time is a fluid time. It’s hard to settle on one thing. We have to be flexible and do what we can to meet the needs,” added Dingman.

To learn more about The Los Alamos Foundation, visit:  The Los Alamos Foundation is currently looking for volunteers across its programming. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Monna Dingman at (805) 478-3934.

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