I am sure I am not alone in being glad to see the back of 2020. For many communities, businesses and individuals, it truly was an ‘annus horribilis’. Sonoma County in particular was hit hard. Coronavirus was further compounded by some of the worst wildfires in history which further impacted businesses. There is one organization in particular that stepped up to the plate, Healdsburg Forever, raising and distributing more money than ever to help provide emergency support through a recent Challenge Grant.
The local economy is so heavily reliant on small businesses in the service sector that cities like Healdsburg felt the combination of Covid and fires more than many other areas in the Bay Area. For example, last week, Gustafson winery, a favorite among many locals for its tasting room up above Lake Sonoma, closed its doors. While there is support at the state level, the community is very reliant on local support organizations.
The state has provided tax relief for businesses impacted by Covid through an executive order giving an automatic three month extension for taxes owed. There is also a state grant of $500m for Covid relief for small business which is being distributed by local community organizations through grants of up to $25,000. In addition, the City of Healdsburg created a $600k small business sustainability program to help businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Flying Goat received $27,500 in grants and Downtown Bakery, Moustache Baked Goods, Williamson Wine and the Parish Café all received $13,770. Not all businesses made it though with Moustache Baked Goods and a number of other businesses around the plaza moving on.
The story of local businesses are the most visible signs of the impact of the pandemic but behind these businesses are the people who really make Healdsburg what it is. The people working in the tasting rooms, picking the grapes and serving in the restaurants and bakeries. It has been widely documented that the Coronavirus has hardly impacted white collar workers but has disproportionately impact minority communities and those working in service industries. It is these local people that have been hit hardest in Healdsburg.
You only need to look at some of the data for Sonoma County as a whole to understand the economic challenges faced by so many people. Out of a population of 495,000, nearly 150,000 are receiving food stamps/snap and 18,337 are defined as being below the poverty level. At a time when more people than ever are relying on healthcare services, there are 42,000 people who have no healthcare.
Many outsiders think of places like Healdsburg as being protected from the challenges that the pandemic brings. In Healdsburg and Geyserville, even in, so-called, normal times, 1 in 3 people are facing food insecurity with many local people struggling to cover the cost of housing and healthcare. The truth is, Sonoma County, including Healdsburg, has been going from one economic crisis to another with fires in three out of the last four years and now compounded by Coronavirus.
More than ever local support organizations are being relied on to close the gap. For example, Healdsburg Forever awarded grants totaling $1.3m in its first 17 years from 2003 to 2019, or an average of $76,500 per year. This year however its fund raising has gone to an entirely new level. It launched the Healdsburg Forever Community Impact Fund with the purpose of really escalating its fund raising to help support a community facing unprecedented challenges. As part of this increased fund raising effort, the Community Foundation of Sonoma offered up a $150,000 Challenge grant, matching all contributions up to a total value of $300,000 by the end of the year. The goal was reached by mid-December providing invaluable support for nonprofits serving the most vulnerable in the community.
In 2020, grants were awarded to nonprofits such as Farm to Pantry, Reach For Home, Alliance Medical Center, other food security providers that in turn provide housing, food and healthcare support services to local families in need. According to Carol Beattie, Board Chair of Healdsburg Forever, “The ultimate goal of Healdsburg Forever is to build up its endowment fund so that it can make large sustainable annual donations to support its ongoing work as a central point of local funding but which can then be supplemented by fund raising efforts to support specific needs of nonprofits through the grants process. As an entire volunteer board, with no staff, 95% of funds received from donors are granted to the non-profits.
Healdsburg is lucky to have a number of wealthy donors but in talking to Carol I was surprised to hear that there are a considerable number of donations at the $25 level. Every little bit really does make a difference. Let’s hope 2021 has less challenges for us all to deal with. That being said, the work of Healdsburg Forever, will continue. There are ongoing challenges outside of pandemics and fires which Healdsburg Forever is looking forward to focussing back on. However, with the ongoing challenges of the current Pandemic this will not be before 2022.
Making A Donation: If you would like to make a donation to Healdsburg Forever click here. No donation is too small.