Our nonprofit sector is working long hours to meet community needs during this incredibly challenging time. To avoid burdening our grant recipients further with interview requests, we are providing the following stories of several nonprofit response efforts. We hope to showcase more of our nonprofits’ incredible work through additional articles on our website at a later date.
BY SAM WATERSTONE
“The minute that the schools closed – all Santa Barbara County schools officially closed on Monday, March 16 – we knew that it obviously wasn’t safe for the Boys & Girls Clubs to remain open. And my initial thought was, ‘Where are kids on free and reduced lunch programs going to eat?’” recalled Michael Baker, CEO at the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County (UBGC).
For Baker, the COVID-19 crisis meant one thing: His clubs could no longer run their youth development programs, so they needed to figure out other ways to support struggling families throughout the county.
“In our organization alone, from our clubs in Carpinteria, Goleta, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, and Westside Santa Barbara, 85% of our members are on free or reduced lunch programs at school,” Baker explained. “That means they live at or below the poverty line. And I instantly thought of them, because I was one of those kids back in the 80s. I was a kid who had one of those cards that got me free breakfast and lunch, and if it wasn’t for that, I wasn’t going to eat.”
Having grown up in poverty, Baker could relate to the discomfort and stress caused by acute hunger that so many families already face on a daily basis. Add a viral pandemic to the mix, and things start to get really scary, really fast. So Baker quickly brought his team together, and they began meeting with community partners to see how UBGC could help feed kids.
“I asked each one of our Club Directors to look at our facilities as community centers, and figure out what we could do to help the community during this tough time. We reached out to the Foodbank, and right away we turned our traditional club locations in Carpinteria, Goleta, Lompoc and Santa Barbara into distribution sites for the Foodbank,” said Baker.
Since partnering with the Foodbank in mid-March, UBGC has been regularly distributing food at four of its club locations, with help from a legion of dedicated volunteers. Daily reports show that roughly 1,700 Santa Barbara County residents are benefitting from these distributions every day.
“The Foodbank deserves so much credit for this because they’re the ones getting the food that feeds our families,” expressed Baker. “I want to emphasize how much I respect them for what they do.”
In addition to operating as Foodbank distribution centers, UBGC facilities also act as donation drop-off sites for personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves. The Foodbank collects these donated items and delivers them to local hospitals, where they are used to protect health care workers as they treat patients with COVID-19.
Outside of their partnership with the Foodbank, which distributes food Monday through Friday, UBGC is taking the lead in providing brown bag lunches on Saturdays and Sundays for Boys & Girls Club members and other children in need. The Santa Barbara Foundation recently awarded UBGC with an emergency COVID-19 response grant, and those funds are being utilized for this new weekend lunch service.
Currently, UBGC is looking for more opportunities to support our communities, and Baker has made it clear that he would like to continue forming partnerships with other organizations serving people in need. “We want to let communities know that our facilities are your facilities, so if any organization could use our space to help people, let us know. One of our core values is collaboration – we collaborate with everyone, and we don’t care who gets the credit, it’s about helping people.”
To learn more about the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County or get involved, visit: unitedbg.org