COVID-19 Response Update from Steve Ortiz, CEO - April 21, 2020

APRIL 21, 2020

Dear United Way Friend and Supporter,

I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health. Since this crisis began, we have been amazed by the front-line healthcare workers and the level of coordination in the non-profit sector to help those most in need. In the two weeks since my previous letter, significant progress has been made to help meet our community’s needs. 

The COVID-19 Joint Response Effort for Santa Barbara County has begun distributing much-needed relief funds to our county’s most vulnerable individuals and families, as well as the organizations actively assisting them, as they navigate the rapidly-evolving economic impacts of the pandemic. To date, 46 local nonprofit organizations have received grants totaling $695,468  to help them meet immediate community needs. This countywide collaborative led by United Way of Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Hutton Parker Foundation, and involving members of the Foundation Roundtable, allows us to coordinate funds and rapidly meet the needs of our community as they arise through collaborative decision-making. 

To provide individual assistance grants to individuals and families in need, United Way is working in partnership with Family Service Agency, whose outstanding staff have been hard at work conducting remote interviews with all applicants to verify information and needs, and to provide case management services. The demand for these grants has been substantial, with more than 1,500 individual households seeking assistance. 

Financial assistance checks from the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort are reaching families right now. Within the next two weeks, more than 800 households (representing more than 2,400 individuals) will receive grants from United Way totaling $600,000. We are amazed by the generosity of our community which has made this possible. Individual assistance grants will continue to be approved on a rolling basis as funds become available.

While the long-term effects of the pandemic on our community are still evolving, we are very clearly seeing the immediate economic toll of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable community members. Paying rent is the top concern of the thousands of residents who have lost employment. Many are also having to make heartbreaking choices about buying food versus paying the bills or purchasing needed medications.

Some of the stories United Way and Family Service Agency have heard from local community members include:

  • A single pregnant mom, whose three kids depend on her for their basic needs, just lost her job and is desperate to keep her kids housed and fed. 
  • Three income earners in one household have all lost their jobs and are now scrambling to pay rent. 
  • To get food, one family must walk three miles to the nearest Foodbank distribution because they do not have the cash to refill their car’s gas tank right now.
  • A mom who has lost income now has to decide between paying rent and buying groceries.

Of course, our friends and neighbors are experiencing many other often underreported struggles, as children and families are now at increased risk of domestic violence, children whose families do not have access to technology and/or internet are unable to attend virtual classes, and individuals of all ages and backgrounds who are now struggling with depression, anxiety, burnout, and more are in dire need of mental health support to weather this crisis.

Separate from the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort, United Way is also working in partnership with Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation, with Lou Buglioli through The Emergency Child Care Fund to provide needed child care for essential Santa Barbara County employees. In less than a week since the program began, child care services for up to 186 children have been expanded for Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, Lompoc Community Hospital in Lompoc, and Community Health Centers in Santa Maria. Three other programs are in the planning stages. 

In addition, United Way of Santa Barbara County is establishing a Critical Needs Fund in partnership with the Santa Barbara County Health Department (PHD) and the James S. Bower Foundation to meet specific health/medical related needs that have been identified by the PHD and other local senior medical leaders. These needs include: 1) accommodations for exposed or sick individuals who need but cannot afford a safe place to self-isolate away from others, 2) technical support for congregate care settings and providers working with high risk populations, and 3) essential sanitary supplies and personal protective equipment for health care providers, homeless street outreach workers, and congregate care settings at risk for COVID-19 outbreaks.

Given the extraordinary demand from our community for help, which already well exceeds the total funding available at this time, we expect to distribute additional funds in the coming  weeks, particularly as the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic begin to take effect. To do this, however, additional donations are needed from those fortunate enough to donate in these trying times. 

These response efforts are only made possible by the generous support of businesses, foundations, and community members like you. If you are able to support any of these efforts, please visit  Thank you for your continued partnership and for your trust in United Way of Santa Barbara County as we continue working to meet the needs of our community in this time of crisis. 

Wishing you and your family good health.

Steve Ortiz, President & CEO, United Way of Santa Barbara County