2020 Crisis Response Report

Dear Friend,


The COVID-19 Community Crisis Response ‘white paper’ which you can access below, reviews the pandemic-focused programs and partnerships that United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) created, managed, and/or actively supported in 2020.

 Since the pandemic began, over $27 million has been  secured and managed by UWSBC  and our community partners to improve the lives of local residents during this pandemic. Together with our partners we launched numerous pandemic response initiatives including six major targeted projects detailed in this report.

This is more than the story of UWSBC’s 2020 accomplishments.  It is the story of what we and our community partners accomplished together.  Success has depended entirely upon all of us working collaboratively – partners supporting each other to be their best – always putting the needs of people first.

As we continue this and other work in 2021 and beyond, we know difficult challenges lie ahead. The loss and upheaval felt by tens-of-thousands of our neighbors is unprecedented. Many continue to struggle to meet their most basic needs. For many, recovery will take years. 

Despite these challenges, we remain optimistic. We have seen what is possible when we unite and work together as a community through the power of partnership. You are an important part of that united community – a community you have helped create.  

We could not be more thankful for your involvement and support. I hope you will find the information in this report useful and inspirational.  As always, we welcome your feedback, ideas, questions, or concerns.

Thank you again. We look forward to more good work together in the years ahead. 



Steve Ortiz
Steve Ortiz, President & CEO


View Report



Click the button above to read the complete 32-page report. For a brief summary, please reference the content below. 

Click here for a PDF of the report. 

We have all had to adapt and be flexible as a result of this pandemic. Within UWSBC’s existing programs in school success and financial empowerment, we have shifted and expanded services in major ways to better meet new and evolving community needs.  

Beyond our core programming, throughout the pandemic UWSBC applied our experience in crisis response and our expertise in collaboration to adopt broad approaches to support our community during this crisis. Specifically, since March 2020, the UWSBC team has purposefully set out to:

  • Identify emerging gaps, challenges, and unmet needs across the County
  • Establish committed networks of leaders and organizations working together toward shared goals
  • Invest in, create, and lead new collaborative strategies and programs that directly support families, organizations, and school districts in need

Our work in this area has been driven by the clear recognition that in a time of community crisis many of our most important institutions, local governments, nonprofits, and leaders are spread exceedingly thin. 

At many points during the pandemic UWSBC and its partners, including local issue experts, have identified systemic weaknesses, gaps in local response efforts, and emerging unmet needs. In cases where our expertise positioned us well to be helpful, we have built alliances with leaders in philanthropy, nonprofits, government agencies, school districts, and with donors and volunteers to solve problems and help thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors. 

For many years this has been the core approach to our work, one that is based on the power of partnership.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, many families faced economic crisis. Rapid, concrete support was critical. In March 2020, UWSBC partnered with other leaders in philanthropy - such as the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Hutton Parker Foundation, and many others - to launch a program to give cash grants to individuals and families who were struggling. In 2020, more than 2,700 grants were awarded totaling over $2.5 million. The need for cash assistance grants continues.  For more information, please visit www.unitedwaysb.org/covid19.

Very early in the pandemic, we heard from health care leaders that their employees were in urgent need of child care during initial child care facility closures. In response, Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation, with Lou Buglioli stepped up as major funders of a new Emergency Child Care Initiative. As the project’s fiscal agent and manager, UWSBC quickly hired a local child care expert to help open programs. Ultimately, $554,000 was invested to support 251 free or subsidized child care spaces at four sites across the County.  This collaborative ended in August 2020 as many child care programs reopened. 

When the pandemic first struck, UWSBC joined with the County Public Health Department (PHD) and the James S. Bower Foundation to create the Public Health Critical Needs Fund (CNF) – a collaborative partnership that enabled government and philanthropic leaders to connect regularly and explore strategies to partner and invest in response to urgent needs. UWSBC helps raise funding and serves as the CNF’s fiscal agent and manager.

In 2020, CNF funders invested:
•    $54,000 to pay for 328 total days of hotel accommodations and supportive services for 51 people who tested positive but had no safe place to quarantine. 
•    $164,000 to enable 26 linguistically and culturally competent employees from the Family Service Agency to serve in PHD’s contact tracing program. They served 3,630 hours handling 656 cases.

Today the CNF is supporting UWSBC’s Vaccination Equity Project (VEP).  For more information on how to support the VEP please visit: www.unitedwaysb.org/criticalneedsfund.  

When schools were forced to abruptly close and move to online instruction, students, parents, and educators did their best but faced huge challenges. Many parents had to choose between staying home to support their children’s education or working to put food on the table and avoid eviction. 

To help meet this need, in August 2020 UWSBC launched the Learning & Enrichment Center Collaborative (L&ECC) which continued until April 2021 when schools began to reopen. The Centers provided access to technology and the internet; adult supervision; learning support; social/emotional skill development; and access to food, enrichment, exercise, and more. Since its inception, the L&ECC served more than 600 students at 10 centers in partnership with 9 school districts across the County. In total, UWSBC raised and invested $1.3 million for this effort. 

Repeated stay-at-home orders and the shutting down of major industries made it clear that thousands of local residents would face fiscal crisis. Renters were of particular concern because eviction moratoriums only defer rental payments to a later date, and they don’t apply to everyone. In May 2020, UWSBC and local governments began to explore models for quickly and efficiently delivering new rental and disaster assistance to help keep vulnerable residents housed and stable during this crisis. With the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Santa Barbara, and the City of Goleta, we invested $2.9 million in 2020 rental and disaster assistance assisting 1,160 people.  With new federal stimulus funding available in 2021, UWSBC continues to support local residents in need with an additional $13 million in grants available.    

In addition to the new crisis response efforts described above, UWSBC also substantially adapted our core programs in ways that would continue serving our communities effectively in the new and challenging COVID-19 environment.  

United for Literacy: When schools closed in March 2020, program participants in web-based literacy programs grew from serving 10,000 to over 25,000 students per day at 45 schools across the County. 

Fun in the Sun (FITS): We adapted the FITS summer learning and enrichment program to serve 350 students through an all-virtual model. Students received weekly kits with supplies for art, STEM, and other learning activities. Nutritious meals were provided with support from the Foodbank. 

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA): We moved VITA online with participants dropping their tax information off in person. Our IRS-certified tax preparation volunteers then scheduled online sessions to help 1,159 people complete their submittals returning $1.7 million in tax refunds to the community.


United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC), in conjunction with many community funders and 
partners, launched several crisis response programs since the first COVID-19 statewide stay-at-home 
order in March 2020. United Way of SBC intentionally adopted new strategies and programs to support our communities during this crisis – recognizing that the severity of circumstance required creativity, adaptation, and new approaches. 
This report will focus on the results of a survey conducted of beneficiaries of two of those programs: Cash Assistance Grants for Individuals and the Rental Assistance Program.

Our goals in conducting this survey were to assess: how well grant recipients were served, present and 
future needs reported by recipients, and the successes and opportunities for improvement within each program. What follows is a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the survey responses. It is our hope that the words and experiences of these grant recipients will help inform how and where we serve the community over the coming months. We know there is great need, but we are optimistic that UWSBC and community partners can continue to make a difference through the power of partnership and collaboration. 

A full report on the many pandemic focused programs and initiatives led by UWSBC during 2020 is available online here: www.unitedwaysb.org/reports. Additionally, a summary of input from focused interviews with key partners and funders involved in UWSBC’s COVID-19 response efforts is provided as a companion piece to the survey results described below. 

Click here to read the full survey report. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has worked to meet an unprecedented level of need in the community. The pandemic has pushed our community's crisis response capacity beyond its limits - calling upon all of our organizations and institutions to come together to find creative ways to get people the help they need quickly and efficiently. We could not do any of this work alone and were fortunate to be able to draw on UWSBC's core approach to our work: one that is based on the power of partnership.

UWSBC and its partners in the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, and government have identified systemic weaknesses, gaps in local response efforts, and emerging unmet needs. In cases where our expertise positioned us well to be helpful, we have built alliances with leaders across sectors, along with donors and volunteers, to solve problems and help thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors. The investments we've made as a community over the past year are too valuable to be forgotten when the pandemic eventually recedes, so we've made efforts to conduct program evaluation and capture the experiences, thoughts, and critiques from our partners and program recipients. This document provides a review of information gathered during focused interviews that were conducted with UWSBC’s key programmatic, philanthropic, and government partners between December 2020 and February 2021.

A full report on the many pandemic focused programs and initiatives led by UWSBC during 2020 is available online here: www.unitedwaysb.org/reports. Additionally, a summary of results from a survey of cash and rental assistance program beneficiaries is provided as a companion piece to the analysis of the focused interviews.

Click here to read the full Focused Interviews Report.

Please join us in our work moving forward:

As portrayed above, UWSBC adapted in many ways to meet major community needs and challenges in 2020. While much of this work is new, all of it has been informed by our decades-long experience running programs and building partnerships that help children succeed academically and support families to be financially stable and strong.

Our work in these critical areas as well as helping our community respond and recover in times of community crisis will continue to be primary focus areas for UWSBC in the years ahead. 

Your support for these efforts is critical.  Please visit www.unitedwaysb.org to learn more about how you may get involved as a volunteer and/or by making a financial contribution today.