The dog’s owners were despondent. Their “baby,” a Border Collie mix, couldn’t stop licking her leg after a previous surgery site had reopened, leaving the tip of a metal rod jutting out. Because of Covid-19, both of the dog’s parents had been laid off and they were losing their home. Thankfully, local nonprofit Max’s Helping Paws was able to cover the vet bill.
“People who never thought they’d need us need us now. They’re having to ask us for help,” says Max’s co-founder and president Dyana Klein. Klein isn’t turning people away, but she knows their money will be running out faster than normal due to the cancellation of their annual fundraiser scheduled for May.
“For us, losing more than $100,000 is catastrophic. It’s nearly half our annual budget. We have been very careful, being a good steward of our donor money. We are moving full steam ahead with helping people pay their vet bills,” Klein explains. “But like everyone, we’re nervous.”
Nervous is an understatement not only for individuals and businesses in our area, but for countless nonprofits and other organizations that offer community assistance. More than a dozen nonprofits and schools had to cancel their biggest fundraisers—scheduled in March, April and beyond—when shelter-in-place went into effect, negating not only months of hard work in preparation, but also much of their annual operating expenses. The calendar read like a bad joke:
Santa Catalina Gala, March 12, Folktale Winery—Cancelled
Montrio’s Fund for Homeless Women, March 12, Montrio Bistro —Cancelled
MCHA Dinner, March 13, Spanish Bay —Cancelled
All Saints Fundraiser, March 21, Quail Lodge—Cancelled
Monterey Chamber Gala, March 21, Hyatt —Cancelled
NRAEF Dinner, March 27, Spanish Bay—Cancelled
BGCMC Comics for Kids, March 28, Spanish Bay—Cancelled
Carmel Foundation Gala, March 28, Pasadera —Cancelled
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County’s annual Comics for Kids gala is one of the best known in the county. CEO Ron Johnson and his staff had to pivot at the last minute.
“We were feeling good coming into it, months out. We had great sponsors with three at our highest level,” Johnson says. “We had Sinbad, the comedian. And then this pandemic. Our immediate thought was, ‘How are we going to make this up?’ This event covers our operating expenses for several months.” Like many groups, the Club’s fundraiser ended up being held in a modified version online.
Other groups, such as Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, followed suit within hours of Governor Gavin Newsom prohibiting groups to congregate.
“You put so much time and energy into these events. This event raises half our annual budget for the medical care of the dogs taken into the program. It’s a huge chunk of money us,” says Co-Founder and Executive Director Carie Broecker.
“We went online, and it did pretty well, but not as well as had we done in person. No one asked for a refund of the cost of their ticket purchase. Most sponsors allowed us to keep the money. So, it wasn’t a total loss, but it wasn’t the same.”
Holly Zoller, president and CEO of the Carmel Foundation, which serves local senior citizens, not only had to cancel their fundraiser, but will also have to use reserves in order to keep services uninterrupted.
“For us, it’s batten down the hatches. Our budget relies on bequests. You have lean years and good years, so we are used to the up and down. But the gala is our biggest event of the year. It’s the one chunk of change. This event was to go directly to housing. We have 50 low-income senior apartments in downtown Carmel. They (tenants) will never have to move, but we’ll have to dip into our rainy-day fund.”
Zoller says despite the stretch, they’ll continue serving lunches to hundreds of seniors in Carmel every week.
“The ‘oh shit’ part hasn’t gone away yet,” says Dan Baldwin, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Monterey County. Baldwin says the County is now working under conditions usually reserved for a natural disaster.
“We tend to think of that situation in terms of a natural, physical, quantifiable disaster, where you can look downstream—where it’s not a perfect science, but it’s ok. But this is unfolding right in front of us, and we don’t know its scale or duration. Typically after a disaster, the part of the community not affected gives to those who were. But in this disaster, everyone’s affected.”
Baldwin says the Foundation’s Covid-19 Relief Fund is topping $2.5 million (as of May 1). The outpouring of help has been tremendous. Even so, the needs are streaming in faster than the cash.
“We work hard to keep the cushion between what we grant and what we have. But the cushion is narrowing a little bit. Now that shelter-in-place has been extended, we’re actively trying to attract resources. The need is not going away.”
Baldwin notes that our county does have some resources that many others simply do not—that we are looked at as a “Xanadu of wealth,” but that’s not the entire story.
“The reality is we also have a lot—tens of thousands—of economically vulnerable people in our area, and that’s our biggest concern. Not just what happens to these people now, but six months from now. How is the debt load in six months? How do they pay rent in six months?”
The Community Foundation is helping fill the void with a three-tiered system. It includes a highly streamlined application process for nonprofits to obtain relief, as well as a brand-new program with the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce that is providing immediate loans and grants to local small businesses.
Chamber CEO Frank Geisler says it’s a small solution born from a new Covid-era program: a weekly, online roundtable of local business people and government officials.
“We are getting ideas generated. More help will come out of this. A management plan will be ready when shelter-in-place is over. But I still think that we’ll have to face a lot of hurts when the hospitality industry loses major events. Something happening to Car Week is devastating to so many—the big players and the small businesses that support those big players.”
The Chamber has more than 600 member businesses, representing an astounding 50,000 local employees. It is yet another of the many that had to cancel their annual fundraising gala, losing tens-of-thousands of dollars.
“We are rolling with the punches,” says Diane Mandeville, marketing director of The Cannery Row Company, whose businesses employ hundreds of locals in the hospitality arena. Cannery Row Company, helmed by local icon Ted Balestreri, also had two company-related fundraisers cancelled or postponed by the pandemic.
“Not to be trite, but we operate as a family. When we knew we had to have people work from home, Ted said, ‘I need to be the first person to know if anyone needs anything.’ We are looking out for all our employees, from a part-time food server to housekeepers who’ve been here from months to years.”
Mandeville has been in the hospitality business for decades, and she has hope. “I would say we are optimistic. The hospitality and tourism industry have weathered many major crises—9/11, the recession of 2008—and we know what the recovery times are. Well over 70 percent of our visitors drive here. They’re also in the same time frame as we are, so as Northern California and the Central Valley are released, and we get comfortable in new normal, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that when we reopen, we will return to safe travel.”
Mandeville isn’t the only one adapting to the “new normal.” Many groups, such as Ron Johnson and the Boys and Girls Clubs, have mobilized to serve in innovative ways, in this case making sure kids and their families won’t go hungry.
“We partnered with the Food Bank and a couple of school districts and we now procure and deliver food to families.”
Johnson, who’s lived on the Peninsula for 50 years, is grateful to live here during this crisis. “It’s made me even more proud to live in this community, more than anything else. This community hasn’t let the nonprofit sector down. Never has. I’ve been here since the 1960s. It’s gratifying to see the community rally around.”
These new partnerships, this spirit, will hopefully continue long after the imminent threat of coronavirus is gone.
It’s a sentiment echoed by the Chamber’s Frank Geisler.
“I think a lot of it has to do with a new attitude toward one another. We’re looking at each other in another way. At the grocery store, people are watching out for each other. It’s not all grim. I think we’re going to emerge with a new attitude that is filled with more love, more caring, more understanding for elderly and people in need. We’ve experienced stress and greed, but I think it’s going to be different after this. There will be a new paradigm.”
Sadly, many other major local events that have a huge nonprofit fundraising component have been cancelled for 2020. These include the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and most other Car Week events, along with the Monterey Jazz Festival. The loss of these funds to help those in need in the community is enormous. Please consider donating to local nonprofits if you are able.