Lessons from The COVID-19 Crisis in North County San Diego

The past seven months have changed the landscape of how nonprofits serve communities. They’ve had to be more creative, more intentional, and more engaging while working with less access to support, less funding, fewer volunteers, and fewer programming opportunities.  

When the pandemic began, the Leichtag Foundation, Coastal Community Foundation, and Rancho Sante Fe Foundation came together to create the North County COVID-19 Response Fund for local organizations to access funding efficiently to support the basic needs of vulnerable community members.  On October 6th we invited executive directors of four nonprofits, that had accessed the Fund, for a conversation about ongoing needs and nonprofit impact during this time Speakers included Nicole Mione-Green of Casa de Amistad, Javier Guerrero of Coastal Roots Farm, Samantha Hold of the Armed Services YMCA at Camp Pendleton, and Max Disposti of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center. 

We’re sharing some key learnings here. You can watch the full conversation via a link at the end of the page. 

Basic Needs Exacerbated 

It quickly became clear that COVID-19 was going to be affecting our communities for an extended amount of time. Within the first month many jobs were lost and the County’s unemployment rate tripled to 15% by April, leading to increased rates of homelessness and food insecurity.  

  • On Camp Pendleton, 37% of families living on base have an adult who lost a job due to the pandemic, according to Samantha Holt. The Armed Services YMCA serves around 50,000 military families, many with low-ranking enlisted marines, who are among the lowest-paid on baseMaintaining spousal employment and covering the high cost of childcare were normal challenges pre-Covid, but now many more families can no longer make ends meet.  
  • Many Coastal Roots Farm customers have also lost jobs due to COVID-19. Executive Director Javier Guerrero noted that, since March, the Farm has tripled the amount of produce it has distributed into the charitable food system.  To respond to the loss of extracurricular activities and childcare options, the Farm plans to run its Summer Farm Camp program all year. 
  • Primarily a youth tutoring and mentoring program, Casa de Amistad in Solana Beach pivoted its services to provide families with food and emergency financial aid when COVID-19 hit. When students cannot address their basic needs, they have fewer tools for education, furthering learning and opportunity gaps, according the Executive Director, Nicole Minone-Green. 

Mental Health Support 

Anxiety and depression have skyrocketed during the pandemic as many people are forced to adjust to change, isolation and loss as the same time, all in a world that feels uncertain. New strategies for coping emerge every day, but lack of resources makes it challenging to utilize the tools. 

  • The North County LGBTQ Resource Center in Oceanside provides mental health services, with special support for gender identity and LGBTQ+ dynamics. Executive Director Max Disposti shared that pre-Covid, their small team of therapists averaged two new clients per week. Now they’re juggling four to five new clients each week and are being pushed past capacity.  
  • Max also pointed out that, during this time, the stigma and shame around needing help are getting worse as families experience severe setbacks to their financial, job, and/or food security. People are afraid to be seen as failures, which contributes to their hesitance in seeking support. 
  • Many Casa de Amistad families cannot find needed mental healthcare, leading program staff to again pivot services to find these resources.   
  • Samantha shares that a YMCA program focused on creating connection in military families shifted to a “Mom’s Tea Time” virtual group that gives mothers the chance to express their feelings on how they are navigating this time. As moms share their experiences, it is apparent that domestic violence and depression are on the rise.  

Compelling Stories 

While we’ve learned about the heightened challenges nonprofits and people are facing, there have also been new opportunities to support people in meaningful ways, with support from the North County COVID-19 Response Fund 

  •  Coastal Roots Farm is providing many isolated customers with needed resources and connections“We’re nourishing community in more ways that just food,” said Javier. 
  • Max described a couple – a former social worker and a former nurse – at risk of becoming homeless after living in the same apartment for over 25 years.  With both disabled, they had limited options. In the middle of the pandemic they had to move with nowhere to go. They had always helped others and did not expect to need help too.  With support from the Fund, the North County LGBTQ Resource Center rented them a hotel room while they found a new home. When the couple found a home, the Center covered the cost of the deposit and the first-month’s rent. 

For more information and how you can help, please check out the North County COVID Response Fund here

Please see below for the full recorded webinar