With the COVID-19 pandemic now entering its second year, and vaccine distribution still in start-up stages, the impacts of this crisis are likely to persist for years.
As our community attempts to contain the spread of the virus, shelter-in-place restrictions and halted economic activity have resulted in lost income or employment for many. Small businesses, restaurants, and cultural organizations have struggled to survive. While relief grants at city, state, and federal levels have helped address these growing needs, local philanthropy has become more important than ever.
Benicia has a wide range of nonprofits that serve our community by channeling donated resources directly where needed.
Some of these agencies help to meet basic needs such as hunger, shelter, and poverty, while others address the special needs of youth, seniors, veterans, or other groups. Valuable cultural programs serve to enhance and enrich the quality of life, while other groups care for the environment. Serving diverse needs, they all rely upon the community support of individual donations and volunteers to carry out their missions. A few examples serve to make the point.
The Family Resource Center acts as a safety net for Benicia families and seniors experiencing financial hardship. “We can assist with rent or utility payments, and supply basic toiletries, diapers, or household goods,” says Kendall Lara, who coordinates the program for the Benicia Police Department. “The Soroptimists have helped us maintain a supply closet of these items, and donations help us provide backpacks for school children and the homeless.”
In response to the pandemic, St. Paul’s Episcopal has pivoted from serving hot meals one day per week to providing food-to-go twice a week, quadrupling the number of meals served. “None of this would be possible without the support of local businesses who donate food, and our volunteers and generous donors,” says Reverend Annie Mertz.
“There is a huge need for food in our community because of the pandemic,” says Heather Pierini, founder of Food is Free Solano, which coordinates a network of food stands in neighborhoods throughout Benicia and Solano County. “To participate in USDA food distribution programs, we had to have a facility large enough to bring in a 53-foot truck,” says Pierini. “None of the local programs had this kind of space. Individual donations enabled us to rent space at the Solano County Fairgrounds and hire a forklift crew to remove pallets of food from the truck. Since receiving our first truckload in July we’ve been able to distribute 1.6 million pounds of food. And we’ve had over 100 volunteers helping us as well.”
The Kyle Hyland Foundation for Teen Support serves the special needs of teens through social interaction, music, art, counseling, and mentoring. Weekly Zoom meetings help teens stay connected in these socially distanced times. A new program is being launched to raise awareness about critical issues such as cultural diversity, dating violence, gender equality, suicide prevention, bullying, cyberbullying, and drugs/alcohol. “Isolation has created mental wellness challenges for many teens,” says founder Barbara Gervase. “We hope to bring speakers on mental health as part of a separate program to enhance wellness for teens, and we’ll need community support to make it happen.”
Cultural and arts organizations have also suffered this year due to the closure of libraries, galleries, theaters, and museums.
Individual donations have made the difference between bankruptcy and survival. “We wouldn’t have made it to 2021 without the support of our community,” says Celeste Smeland, Executive Director of Arts Benicia. The non-profit visual arts center cancelled exhibitions and dozens of classes in 2020 before adapting its programs to online modes of delivery. “Our community really stepped up with donations despite how difficult the past year has been. Their support enabled us to continue serving our community with art education, online exhibitions, and services for youth.”
Finding a cause you care about and a way to help is often personally rewarding and a way to express your own values.
Your actions not only help others, but may inspire friends and family to do the same for a purpose they care about. Many of Benicia’s worthy nonprofits are listed at https://greatnonprofits.org/city/benicia/CA. Others can be found by searching online or asking for referrals. Research what these groups do and consider making a small gift or volunteering your time to help. Many volunteer opportunities are listed at https://solano.cvnl.org/. It takes all of us to meet the needs of others and to sustain the quality of life we want in our community.