The Vaccination Equity Project funded more than a dozen local organizations in their efforts to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine

United Way of Santa Barbara County recently joined forces with the Bower Foundation, Cottage Health, and others to fund 13 local nonprofits that are each working to promote vaccine access and equity. 

Dubbed the Vaccination Equity Project, the United Way and its partner funders pooled $340,000 into one fund for local organizations to apply for. 

The project sits under the larger umbrella of the Critical Needs Fund, which aims to “quickly deploy philanthropic and nonprofit resources in support of Santa Barbara County’s fight against the spread of COVID-19,” United Way’s website explains. 

click to enlarge The Vaccination Equity Project funded more than a dozen local organizations in their efforts to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine
EQUAL IMMUNITY : United Way of Santa Barbara County and local partners pooled $340,000 to give to local organizations making a difference in the vaccine rollout.

“Part of United Way’s model during times of crisis is to identify emerging gaps, challenges, and unmet needs across the county,” United Way of Santa Barbara County President and CEO Steve Ortiz told the Sun. “Then we establish a committed network of leaders and organizations to come together and look at those needs … and then invest in creating and leading collaborative strategies and programs that directly support families, organizations, schools, and people in need in our community.”

That’s how the Critical Needs Fund first started at the beginning of COVID-19, Ortiz said, and the fund adapted over time to serve the highest priority needs in the community as these needs changed over the course of the pandemic. 

At the beginning, when COVID-19 was surging in the community, the fund was focused on isolation capacity and contact tracing. It paid for hotel rooms and other support for people with COVID-19 who needed to isolate and funded the Family Service Agency to train employees for a robust tracing program. 

But now that case rates, testing positivity, and hospitalizations are lower than ever, thanks to the widespread availability and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the fund is shifting gears to focus on the Vaccination Equity Project.

“We began a discussion around vaccinations as the stock became more available across our county, and how we could support, primarily, the strategies and outreach in informing individuals,” Ortiz said. “Those who lack access due to transportation, language, accessibility, and just helping them get the vaccine.”

The Vaccination Equity Project formed a committee of seven individuals from across the county to review applicants and pick the 13 organizations that received funding. The committee included representatives from the county Public Health Department, Cottage Hospital, the city of Santa Maria, Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization, Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, and United Way of Santa Barbara County, Ortiz said. 

“The idea here is kind of the grassroots approach,” Ortiz said. “Really about bringing in organizations that already have the trust of the community, have access to that community, potentially already serving them through their own programs.”

The organizations chosen to receive funds include Carpinteria Children’s Project, Children’s Resource & Referral of Santa Barbara County, Doctors Without Walls (Santa Barbara Street Medicine), Equalitech, Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County, Future Leaders of America/805 UndocuFund, Good Samaritan Shelter, Isla Vista Youth Projects, La Casa de la Raza, Mental Wellness Center, NAACP (Santa Maria-Lompoc branch), Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, Planned Parenthood of California Central Coast, and the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Promotores Network.

They each bring something unique to the table in their efforts to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the hardest-to-reach populations.

“It’s everything from email campaigns, phone banking and calling individuals making sure they sign up, helping them sign up, helping them get to the site through transportation connections, texting through their organization systems,” Ortiz said. “Many of them are going door to door and making sure people are signed up, if not helping them sign up. Doing street outreach as well with the homeless population and making sure that those who are living in the streets are also getting the vaccine.”

As the world starts to reopen again, equitable access to public health resources is more vital than ever, Ortiz said.

“This is only possible with all of us coming together as a community to make sure we’re all healthy, and reopen safely as well,” he said. “That’s kind of the whole movement behind this.” 


• The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce recently received a CalChamber 2021 President’s Circle Award, which “recognizes chambers for excellence in business advocacy and helping their members comply with California employment laws,” according to the chamber. “Advocacy plays a large role in the chamber’s efforts to be a champion for our local business community,” Tim Ritchie, chair of the chamber’s Business and Government Roundtable, said in a statement. “While much of this work is done behind the scenes, programs like our Business and Government Roundtable allow us to continue the important conversations about how government decisions impact our business community and where our business leaders feel the chamber needs to take a stand.”

Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send business and nonprofit news to [email protected].

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