COVID-19 Response Update from Steve Ortiz, CEO - July 9, 2020

JULY 9, 2020 

Dear United Way Friend and Supporter,

I hope this letter finds you in good spirits and good health in the midst of this ongoing pandemic and time of upheaval, both socially and economically. I am confident in our community’s ability to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to make meaningful and positive societal change. 

We wanted to provide an update about United Way’s annual community events for the remainder of 2020 and a recap of our ongoing COVID-19 response efforts that have taken place since our last letter.

In order to keep our valued supporters, volunteers, and staff safe and healthy in such rapidly-changing times, we have made the decision to cancel all of United Way’s 2020 in-person events, including our Leadership & Alexis de Tocqueville Reception, Heritage Club Luncheon, Day of Caring, and Red Feather Ball. We miss seeing all of you; however, ensuring your safety is our utmost priority until we can safely resume in-person gatherings.

We are excited to let you know that there will be an opportunity to engage in a virtual and unique Red Feather Campaign: United | Together later this summer that will raise funds to ensure that thousands of students have access to high quality learning experiences through Fun in the Sun and United for Literacy programs for the 2020-21 school year. Details about this online campaign will be released in the coming weeks. You can also visit for more information and a sneak peek.

In the meantime, we have been hard at work continuing to meet the needs of local children and families who are struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since my last letter, our accomplishments include:

  • Hundreds of donors to the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort for Santa Barbara County have secured more than $1.5 million to provide ongoing relief grants for individuals and families in need. To date, 1,586 households (representing more than 5,200 individuals) have received much-needed support to help meet basic needs like housing and food, and recover from lost wages. United Way and Family Service Agency (our case management agency) will continue to review and approve individual assistance grants on a rolling basis as funds remain available. The COVID-19 Joint Response Effort partnership has also provided close to $1.6 million to 107 local nonprofit organizations to help them meet immediate and long-term community needs. Overall, this countywide collaborative led by United Way of Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Hutton Parker Foundation, has raised over $3.7 million to respond to community needs.
  • The Emergency Child Care Initiative, United Way and its founding partners, Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation with Lou Buglioli, have provided needed child care for essential Santa Barbara County employees since early April. Child care services have been available for up to 278 children at 4 sites in Santa Barbara (for Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic employees), Lompoc (for Lompoc Community Hospital employees) and Santa Maria (for Community Health Centers employees). Ten generous donors helped raise $686,000. This initiative will provide services through July 31st with child care centers soon resuming normal operations through California’s reopening plan.
  • Through the Public Health Critical Needs Fund (CNF), resources are being quickly deployed to help leaders from the Public Health Department and other medical/health care providers reduce the rate of viral transmission to keep our local economy safely reopened. Specifically, the CNF is focused on two strategies: 1) providing shelter and services to individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 who would not otherwise have access to a safe location to self-isolate/quarantine, and 2) providing more contact tracing capacity to help the County reduce the spread of COVID-19. Substantial progress has been made in deploying these contact tracing teams through an expanded partnership with Family Service Agency. 30 culturally and linguistically competent employees are now trained and have been integrated into the County Public Health Department’s contact tracing program. To date, this fund has raised $375,000.
  • Just last week, United Way kicked off its modified virtual Fun in the Sun summer learning program to continue supporting over 350 students and families during this time of social distancing. The learning program, originally designed to address summer learning loss, will be especially important with this year’s prolonged school closures. Seven virtual sites are serving students from Carpinteria Unified School District, Santa Barbara Unified School District, Goleta Union School District, and school districts throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. In this virtual setting, scholars will engage in hands-on STEAM activities, have access to FITS’s signature literacy programs, participate in virtual field trips, and receive all the individualized materials they need for virtual learning on a weekly basis. In addition, United Way, the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County, and No Kid Hungry are partnering to ensure that scholars are provided with a free, nutritious lunch every day. To learn more about the Virtual FITS program plan, please visit
  • On June 29th, United Way’s Virtual Summer Reading Program began. 200 students from Buellton School District, Goleta Union School District, Hope School District, and Santa Barbara Unified School District are using United for Literacy’s online reading improvement software to stay engaged with their reading over the summer break. To keep students motivated, there are weekly prize drawings and a chance to win an iPad as grand prize for all students who complete their recommended usage. Students are encouraged to log on 3-4 days a week during the six-week program.

Click here to view an infographic detailing some of these updates.

Given the long-term nature of this pandemic and its devastating economic impacts, we anticipate that community members will soon face longer-term unmet needs. Additional funds are needed for United Way to continue deploying critical services and for us to continue leading collaborative efforts to address the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are able to support us in these many efforts, we ask that you consider a making a donation today by visiting

We deeply appreciate your continued partnership as we work together to support our neighbors in need during this time of crisis. Our work simply would not be possible without the support of caring community members like you.

Wishing you and your family good health.


Steve Ortiz signature

Steve Ortiz

President & CEO