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By Emmet Pierce

May 12, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- While East County residents anxiously wait out the COVID-19 pandemic, community groups and concerned citizens are rallying to help those in need.

Throughout the region, volunteers are performing a wide variety of services, ranging from providing medical supplies to feeding the families of displaced workers. Churches, service clubs, grocery stores, and individuals are finding ways to support those affected by the coronavirus and the closure of numerous businesses.

In Ramona, Sew Easy Studio, a business that teaches sewing and quilting, has begun creating masks for health workers, military personnel, and area residents. About 15 volunteers are taking part in the project. Some area residents have donated materials for the masks. 

“We have made over 8,000 masks and are getting close to 9,000,” said Sew Easy Studio owner Barbara Jean Smith. “Normally we are a community classroom. People who need a mask can come and get one. There is no obligation to pay. We have a suggested donation.”

Mask recipients have included Kaiser Permanente, Palomar Medical Center Poway, and Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Smith said. 

Lisa Andregg, another local seamstress, has shifted from making 1880s-style dresses to crafting masks to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s not a money making business,” Andregg said. “All the money is put back in for people who can’t afford them or for hospitals and frontline people.”

COVID-19 has taken a heavy financial toll on the economy. Government-mandated social distancing has forced many East County businesses to close during the pandemic. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has begun slowly allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen statewide. 

Repaying the Community

In Spring Valley, Valley Farm Market has donated thousands of meals to people in need since the pandemic began. Grocer Derek Marso is striving to give something back to the community that has sustained his family’s business since 1956. 

“At the end of the day, you have to find sustenance for your soul,” Marso said. “We have been in the community for 64 years and we plan to be in the community for 64 more. I am a firm believer that leaders are people who serve. Without the community we are nothing. We just wanted to give back. There’s no reason for anyone to go without food.”

Marso said people can go to his website to arrange to make a donation or to sign up to receive a meal. The effort to provide food for the needy has broad support, he noted. 

“A lot of people have donated to the cause.”

At the Grossmont Healthcare District, officials have been collecting personal protective equipment for health workers, noted CEO Barry Jantz. The Grossmont Union High School District has donated thousands of protective masks to the cause, he added. 

“The largest donations came from major companies, but a lot came from small businesses and individuals,” Jantz said.

The district also has contributed $250,000 to support local community clinics that are feeling the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. 

Thanking Health Workers

 “We got banners and took them to all of the community clinics to say thank you healthcare workers,” he added. “Any kind of thank you right now is helping folks who are putting in long hours.”

A drive by the district to raise money to buy groceries for hospital workers has received support from local businesses and individuals, said Jantz. “There have been hundreds of donations. “Walmart brought in pizzas.” 

The 32 members of the Santee-Lakeside Rotary Club recently donated $1,250 to support the San Diego Food Bank’s feeding program, said Elana Levens-Craig (right), past president of the service organization. 

“The reason they joined Rotary was to give back to the community,” she said. 

At the Lakeside Christian Helps Center, a food and clothing pantry, people are coming from surrounding communities in search of assistance, said Ralph Goodrich, the volunteer coordinating director.

“Some of the other food banks haven’t been able to keep up with the load, so we are taking on more,” he said.

Offering a Helping Hand

Members of the Kiwanis Club of El Cajon Valley have been helping organizations that are providing financial support to the needy during the pandemic.

“We have written three checks in the last week or so: $500 to the Salvation Army in El Cajon, $500 to Crisis House in El Cajon, and a third check for $500 to the San Diego Food Bank,” said Dick Campbell (left), the group’s treasurer. 

Cox Communications recently announced a donation of $25,000 to Feeding San Diego, which provides more than 26 million meals every year to underserved populations. The grant from the James M. Cox Foundation will support local families during the pandemic. 

The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, which serves about 350,000 people each month countywide, has a strong presence in East County, noted President and CEO James Floros (right). During the pandemic, those taking advantage of free meals has increased greatly. Food lines are between 20 and 50 percent longer than usual. Local organizations have risen to the occasion.

“Our East County nonprofit partners are coming to us saying we are needing more food,” Floros concluded. “We are making sure they have enough to meet the demand.”

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting, including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.


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