The fluid COVID-19 reopening guidelines and ever-changing restrictions have wreaked havoc on the small business community throughout Santa Barbara County, but local organizations have stepped up to act as a lifeline to help them in their time of need.
The Santa Barbara Better Together Fund is one example of how community organizations came together to lend a hand to struggling small businesses. The fund has already donated more than $1 million to 150 small businesses.
The fund, a partnership of Deckers Brands and the Santa Barbara Foundation, was created to “help small businesses thrive and prosper in times of turmoil,” said Tanner Begin, the fund’s public relations and marketing coordinator.
Grants have ranged between $5,000 and $10,000.
The funds have been given out to companies throughout the county, from Carpinteria to Santa Maria and all the unincorporated areas in between, Begin said, noting the importance of being representative of the entire county.
“A lot of people’s favorite old-time businesses are closing, and we have to ask ourselves what we want our community to look like at the end of this,” Begin told Noozhawk. “It really puts you in the mindset of wanting to shop local, wanting to order takeout, and doing anything you can to help these businesses survive.”
The initial Better Together Fund started with funding from Deckers CEO Dave Powers and his wife, Caroline, with additional money from corporate donors and city matching grants, Begin said.
With the original pool of dollars running low, the fund is in the process of raising another $100,000 by March 1. This time around, the hope is to do grassroots organizing and reach out to community members for small-ticket donations to make up the majority of the new funds, Begin said.
The fund recently launched a website, is in talks with local companies to help get the word out, secured small businesses ambassadors, and is in the process of putting branding on merchandise to sell in order to create more funds for small businesses, Begin said.
“Dave and Caroline took this initial funding and grew it into a movement and an organization that they’re hoping to see last well beyond the pandemic,” he added.
While the focus of the fund right now is to help small businesses survived, Begin said the hope is that it can be later used as seed funding for new small businesses wanting to get their start.
“We believe that the funds will shift as the needs of the community shift,” he said. “We’ve talked about that a lot.
“Our community is no stranger to hard times. We can’t predict where the need will come from in the future, but we will be proactive in knowing we can save for another hard time.”
Small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the county can also apply for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to help keep them afloat. As part of the most recent federal coronavirus relief package, $284 billion was allocated for the second round of PPP loans.
Eligible small businesses and nonprofit organizations can apply for these loans until March 31, or until the funding is exhausted.
“These small businesses are really hurting,” Jeff DeVine, president and CEO of American Riviera Bank, told Noozhawk in an earlier interview. “They’re going through this shutdown that is lasting a lot longer than we thought. This Paycheck Protection Program becomes really important to small businesses.”
Small businesses aren’t the only ones affected by this unprecedented global pandemic, and there are a variety of resources that provide relief to community members in need.
The 805UNDOCUFund is a collective effort among grassroots community organizationsin Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to help undocumented immigrants and families rebuild and recover when disaster hits, according to fund organizers.
The fund was originally created in the aftermath of the 2017 Thomas Fire and the deadly Montecito debris flows on Jan. 9, 2018. The fund relaunched in 2020 and widened the scope of its mission to support families affected by the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, according to fund organizers.
The funds are given to residents of the two counties who are undocumented, including mixed-status families, and who have experienced a loss of housing, jobs or income during the crisis. Click here to make an online donation.
Organizers say their goal is to raise at least $1 million in response to the coronavirus crisis to “give a meaningful level of assistance to help individuals and families recover.”
United Way of Santa Barbara County also provides COVID-19 financial assistance to individuals, families and organizations. With high demand from residents, United Way has already distributed about $3.8 million to nearly 3,000 community members in need, according to Katie Higgins, communications and grants coordinator at United Way.
In partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Hutton Parker Foundation, United Way is offering COVID-19 Joint Response Grants to affected community members.
“These grants are to help struggling community members secure and maintain basic needs, cover unexpected child care and education expenses, and recover from loss of wages due to business closures and social distancing measures,” Higgins told Noozhawk.
United Way also offers rental assistance for residents living in the Buellton, Solvang, Carpinteria, Guadalupe and the unincorporated areas of the county that have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19 and can demonstrate the need for rental support.
Approximately $890,000 has already been allocated by the county for this round of funding, Higgins said, and United Way is currently accepting rental assistance applications.
She said United Way also partnered with the City of Goleta to award assistance grants to Goleta residents of up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for families. To be eligible, residents must reside within the incorporated city limits of Goleta and have experienced a hardship related to the crisis.
The City of Goleta has already allocated around $50,000 for this fund, according to Higgins.
While not every organization has the means to assist financially, others have stepped up to help the community in other ways.
The demand at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has doubled countywide since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, with unexpected and disproportionate increases on the South Coast, said Judith Smith-Meyer, the organization’s marketing communication manager.
The Foodbank has made nearly 60,000 home deliveries to seniors and those facing extreme medical circumstances since the crisis began, she said.
“The two main lessons we had learned were that in a large-scale disaster, the only way we’d be able to meet residents’ need for emergency food was providing it at or near their homes,” Smith-Meyer added.
“We could only do that by building and strengthening, and then leveraging, relationships across all relevant sectors of the county.”
The Foodbank has delivered more than 18 million pounds of food since the beginning of March, fully twice as much as it would deliver in a “normal” year, she said.
To keep up with the increasing demand for meals, she added, the Foodbank partnered with 10 Healthy Community Pantry sites to provide healthy food, education and wrap-around services at locations that are compatible with families’ schedules and needs.
The Foodbank is also building new and renewed relationships with schools and school districts countywide to provide healthy groceries to families at the same times and locations where they pick up school lunches for their children, Smith-Meyer said.
Santa Barbara County Food Rescue also noticed a big need for prepared meals over the course of the last year, said Julia Blanton, program coordinator at SBC Food Rescue.
SBC Food Rescue reaches out to food businesses to see if they have a surplus of food, then connects those businesses to local organizations that provide food to the community.
“This started before COVID, and then rapidly accelerated over the course of the pandemic,” Blanton said. “A lot of the things we had seen and been working for pre-COVID were really highlighted during the pandemic.”
SBC Food Rescue launched the COVID Response Hub on its website to collect more information on where the needs were and to fill them.
“The food is getting to families, it’s getting to unsheltered populations,” she said. “It’s amazing to know the needs of the community and bring people together who don’t normally partner together.”