The COVID-19 crisis has forced small businesses and nonprofits around the world, including our Advance borrowers, to forget business as usual and respond in creative ways to best serve their community and survive—quickly. From delivering essential household goods and locally sourced food to staying connected with families by livestreaming nature walks, these businesses and organizations demonstrate the flexibility, resilience, and heart that make small businesses critical for communities to thrive.
Friends of Willow Tree
Friends of Willow Tree, led by director Bethany Chaffin, is a nonprofit Waldorf-inspired educational enrichment center serving charter and home-schooled students across rural North County San Diego. With a curriculum built upon connection with nature, personal interactions, and creating tangible learning experiences, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge.
To navigate this new digital frontier, Friends of Willow Tree provided training to both teachers and parents to get the most out of virtual coursework. Each teacher developed a virtual roadmap that included recorded lessons, live check-ins, read-a-longs, and show-and-tells. They also continue to offer specialty classes such as woodworking, music, and foreign language in modified formats.
Kate Beishir, a Friends of Willow Tree teacher, describes the experience as challenging yet transformative. “We have met this outer chaos with inner strength to allow students to have an anchor in this storm. We are not sure how long this storm will last—but we refuse to give up the connections we have with our amazing students. The river of life has taken an unusual turn, but we have grabbed our boats and paddles and we continue our journey. We have heard the call. And we are honored to answer.”
LuckyBolt is a healthy food service social enterprise that aims to improve the food system by partnering with local farmers and suppliers to deliver hearty, healthy lunches to offices around San Diego. As many offices switched to remote working, LuckyBolt began home deliveries of pantry staples and rotating meal specials twice a week. They continue to prioritize local, sustainable food systems by sourcing produce from over a dozen San Diego-based farms and offering freshly baked bread, muffins, and more from local baker Justin Dallas Gaspar.
LuckyBolt’s large commercial kitchen affords their team space to put more stringent food safety procedures in place and also enables them to produce bulk orders of nutritious, local food for health systems during the pandemic. Founder Kris Schlesser feels compelled to do his part to keep San Diego healthy and strong, especially for those on the front lines who risk their lives to do the same. LuckyBolt has been providing nutritious, local food for several health systems during the pandemic.
Somali Family Service
Somali Family Service of San Diego (SFS) provides support to East African immigrants and refugees in San Diego. Since its inception, the organization has provided culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and services for the nearly 30,000 people who escaped turmoil in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea who now call San Diego home. SFS provides programs that develop leadership skills, financial literacy, health education, and career planning.
Many cultural, language, and technological hurdles exist for the families that SFS supports, making it difficult to access help during this crisis. Local emergency food distributions require individuals to drive up and have food placed in their vehicles to avoid contact and potential viral transmission. However, many refugee families do not have reliable access to cars, and those that observe Islam are wary of food that may not be halal.
SFS is assisting refugees with applications for unemployment assistance and CalFresh food benefits, as well as navigating general questions about online learning, transportation, public health, and mental health.
SFS’s COVID-19 response was recently featured in The San Diego Union-Tribune, where President and CEO Ahmed Sahid shared that “the organization normally serves at least 3,000 families a year…but last week alone it served at least 1,000 people…that number will grow in the coming week.” The nonprofit is raising funds to support this growing need with the SFS COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Moniker Group is a collective of local community-centered businesses. Throughout these challenging times, Moniker has strived to stay true to their values by keeping people at the forefront of everything they do. Following the conversion of restaurants to takeout only, founder and CEO Ryan Sisson knew they had to move fast to stay connected to the community.
Ryan’s team responded by moving Moniker General 100% online and expanding its offering to curbside pick-up of fresh produce, dry goods, beer & wine, personal essentials, and home goods. They leveraged their values-driven commercial supply chain—which is still functioning well—to get both staples and splurges into local homes.
“The hope is to support the local community by providing mostly organic essentials—bagels, olive oil, beer, wine, ginger, avocados, the almighty TP, and lots lots more,” Ryan told the LA Times. Customers can also get their Moniker coffee fix with carryout from Moniker Coffee in Liberty Station.
Kid Ventures operates early childhood enrichment centers providing preschool, childcare, camps, and special events. As we all know, physically distancing with toddlers is impossible. To support public health, Kid Ventures transitioned to offer distance learning resources that both parents and children love. Virtual resources include Kid Ventures onDemand, featuring daily crafts and activities, and livestreamed storytime, nature walks, and simple science experiments.
Co-owner Darren Solomon shared that the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. One happy parent praised the immediate pivot to “innovative solutions like Facebook Live, take-home craft packets for each student, and Zoom sessions, which speaks volumes about Kid Venture’s commitment to their families. I’m not aware of any other preschool in the area that has been as responsive.”
The Town Kitchen
The Town Kitchen, PBC, is a community-driven food company with a dual purpose: Train and employ young adults from foster care and reentry communities in the Bay Area and offer sustainable organic catering to corporate clients. After the Bay Area implemented shelter-in-place orders, household customers were reporting wait times of ten or more days from larger online companies that were struggling to keep up with demand.
Founder Eric Quick knew that The Town Kitchen could deliver the essential goods their customers need in only three days and promptly launched The Town Kitchen Provisions on March 23, just one week into San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order. “It’s amazing to see the community support around our new business unit. We saw tremendous traction with over 100 orders in the first week without any advertising.”
The pivot to The Town Kitchen Provisions allows for continued training and employment of underserved youth in the Bay Area. Every $100 spent with The Town Kitchen Provisions creates three hours of employment and apprenticeship.
The future will be led by intrepid entrepreneurs like Ahmed Sahid, Eric Quick, Ryan Sisson, Bethany Chaffin, Kris Schlesser, and Darren Solomon who are committed to doing good in their communities. Entrepreneurs who look beyond short-term needs, crafting lasting solutions that will build stronger and more resilient communities for years to come. Working together even while apart, we can respond to this crisis and rebuild our communities. It’s up to all of us to ensure that once we reach the end of this crisis, the organizations we love are standing with us.