North Bay charitable groups seeing more need, less to give in coronavirus pandemic

As the COVID-19 plunges an already unequal economy that favors the rich into turmoil, nonprofit agencies that provide food and financial assistance are seeing more people with less to dole out.

The circumstances have become dire and expected to get worse.

On the front lines

Describing itself as a safety net for those in need, the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County has collected 800 names of recipients and added 300 to the waiting list in November, Assistant Director Kathy Cane pointed out.

“A lot of them are trying to catch up, some borrowing from friends and family. If they don’t have a savings, they can’t recover,” she said. “These are very hard times.”

Cane estimates there has been a 20% drop in her organization’s usual $11 million annual budget.

“If this goes on, what’s going to happen?” Cane asked.

Much of the problem is ignorance, nonprofit managers say. If better-off individuals or corporations that traditionally chip in don’t know there’s a lack of donations, the problem becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many nonprofits had fundraisers that would signal to the community when to give. Now, the coronavirus outbreak has halted that practice.

The Community Foundation of Sonoma County is experiencing the same issue as a local philanthropy hub, which assists other nonprofit groups with donations.

“Nonprofit organizations are having to serve clients more than ever. Many of these clients weren’t struggling five years ago,” foundation spokeswoman Caitlin Childs said. “We have to find money to give more money. We’re asking the business community to continue to support (charities) at least at the same level.”

Childs said later she was referring to the hope that companies give to all nonprofit charities in general.

The coronavirus has not only affected the growing need found at the charities. It has impacted how they operate.

The traditional Secret Santa program operated by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership was forced to go online with postings in which contributors may “adopt” a child’s wish list for Christmas presents, according to Childs.

Redwood Empire Food Bank CEO David Goodman told the Business Journal the demand among its recipients has amounted to “twice as much” as the 11 million served last year.

Goodman estimates the food bank tends to one in six Sonoma County residents — 525 households were served food packages on one recent weekend day alone. The need, which has ebbed and flowed over the last eight months during the pandemic, has returned to its height. More than 30,000 boxes have been assembled and churned out in a month.

“It’s just staggering. And these are not just the poor. They’re just people who are out there living. People are coming to us who don’t identify as poor. What the hell is poor when you move to Sonoma County?” he asked.

It takes a village

Those who are more fortunate have started to take notice of the misfortunes of others and are giving where they can.

“We all have to serve the community,” said Sharon Root, wealth manager at Double Eagle Financial in Santa Rosa. “Many in the middle class can’t afford to live here.”

Something as simple as tipping heavily can go a long way for struggling workers trying to make ends meet in the North Bay’s primary leisure and hospitality industries, she mentioned.

Root encourages individuals and businesses to take the time to donate during these challenging times.

“You won’t have a business if you don’t have customers using the services,” she said. “These are not handouts. Capitalism will only work now if we all pitch in.”

Editor’s Note: This article was changed to clarify that Community Foundation of Sonoma County spokeswoman Caitlin Childs' hope that businesses continue to give was meant as a request for all charities to receive the same level as prior years. In addition, the story incorrectly identified the sponsor organization for the Secret Santa program. It is run by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership.

Show Comment