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

MAY 21, 2020

Dear United Way Friend and Supporter,

We hope you and your family are in good spirits and good health. We have been heartened by our community’s coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since my previous letter, more progress has been made to help meet our community’s needs through United Way’s multi-pronged COVID-19 relief efforts. 

We are happy to announce that thanks to our generous supporters, the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort for Santa Barbara County, has secured more than $1.2 million to provide ongoing support for individuals and families in need through Individual Assistance Grants. To date, more than 800 households (representing 2,600 individuals) have received much-needed relief funds. With Family Service Agency serving as our case management agency, individual assistance grants will continue to be reviewed and approved on a rolling basis as funds remain available. Paying rent and covering basic needs remain the top concerns for the thousands of residents who have lost employment. In addition, 94 local nonprofit organizations have received grants totaling more than $1.3 million to help them meet immediate and near-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 million to respond to community needs. 

One recipient of an individual assistance grant wrote us a note of gratitude that we wanted to share with you, our generous donors and partners who made these relief grants possible:

“My wife and I would like to thank you for this generous check. We are very humbled and grateful to have received your financial support during this difficult time. We will always remember you in our hearts for this gift that will be used for our medications and this week's food purchase. Your letter was truly a blessing when it came in the mail.”

Through 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 expanded to provide needed child care for essential Santa Barbara County employees. Child care services are now 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).  To date, this fund has raised $685,000.

Additionally, United Way and leaders in philanthropy have established a new Public Health Critical Needs Fund (CNF) that can quickly deploy resources to help leaders from the Public Health Department and other medical/health care leaders reduce the rate of viral transmission and assist with the process of safely reopening Santa Barbara County’s economy by filling key gaps in the fight against COVID-19. To date, this fund has raised $347,500. Specifically, the CNF focuses on two strategies that are among the most critical of California’s six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order:

  1. Isolation Capacity – In this focus area the CNF helps pay for hotel rooms and social service, medical, and other support for people who are diagnosed with, or are presumed to have, COVID-19 and who lack a place to self-isolate/quarantine that is safe for themselves and others.
  2. Robust Contact Tracing Capacity – In this focus area the CNF is funding the Family Service Agency to engage up to 30 culturally and linguistically competent employees who are now being deployed and integrated into the County Public Health Department’s contact tracing program.

To further assist and help steer the safe reopening process, United Way has also served in an advisory capacity on Santa Barbara County’s Reopening In Safe Environment (RISE) Guide (visit for the full guide). The drafting of these guidelines involved 350 stakeholders/leaders from local communities, businesses, faith organizations, education institutions, nonprofits, philanthropy, and more. The group played a critical role in generating insights, inputs, and strategies for how businesses and society can safely operate in the phased reopening of our economy.

Through United Way’s School Supply Drive, generous donors are helping provide supplies children need to continue learning at home during school closures. With the pandemic’s resulting economic downturn, many families are in need of extra help to get supplies for their kids. United Way is partnering with local Family Resource Centers, the Santa Barbara Public Library, and other organizations to begin distributing donated school supplies this month. To date, over 250 local children have received learning supplies such as pencils, paper, rulers, crayons, scissors and much more! 

The Santa Barbara Public Library is also working with United Way to identify students in need of age appropriate books and has helped get books in the hands of over 1,000 children so far. More supplies and books are still needed. If you are able to support this effort, please visit

This summer, United Way will continue supporting over 350 students and families through its national award-winning Fun in the Sun summer learning program; however, this year’s program is being adapted to a virtual format to comply with social distancing guidelines. The learning program, originally designed to address summer learning loss, will be especially important with this year’s prolonged school closures. Five virtual sites will serve 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. 

Our generous partnering school districts will provide our FITS scholars with the technological devices necessary for virtual participation. UWSBC and its school-based partners will also deliver mobile hot spots for scholars experiencing connectivity issues. In addition, United Way will partner with the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County to ensure that scholars are provided with a free, nutritious lunch and snacks every day. UWSBC staff and volunteers will help distribute food to all Fun in the Sun scholars, their families and anyone in the community 18 and younger who needs nutritional support. To learn more about the Virtual FITS program plan, please visit

I am so proud of, and thankful for, the excellent and dedicated team of United Way staff, volunteers, and donors like you who have made it possible for us to play such diverse and important roles together in meeting the extraordinary needs that so many local residents are experiencing. The need for help already well exceeds total funding available at this time. 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  

Thank you so much 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