Tahoe-Truckee strong: Community supports struggling nonprofits while pondering ‘When will this all end?’
The Sierra Sun continues its “Investigating the Impact” series to discuss how the community is coping with the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on the toll the pandemic has had on the economy, government services, education, the environment, health care, housing, nonprofits and arts & culture — and the situation each sector faces and what resources are available to help the community move forward.
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It’s stay-at-home day 72. Mi Pueblito Market has not restored its original business hours, but the storefront window reads “Juntos somos Truckee-Tahoe,” pitching a new product.
For $8, customers can choose between an buy a “Tahoe-Strong” window sticker, or one reading “Truckee-Strong.” Both were created by Tahoe Kidz to support the Sierra Community House,
Though stickers alone cannot assure the business and social vitality of the area, the decals — no limit to the number you can purchase — represent just one project under way so that North Shore residents and visitors can continue to sustain the network of local nonprofits during the coronavirus pandemic.
As new existential questions emerge from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the stresses and strains wrought by the disease continue to accumulate. “When will this all end?” is the ultimate question.
None of the nonprofits in North Lake Tahoe have that answer, but steady support from within and outside of the Basin has helped increase their capacity and facilitate the collaboration necessary to provide some relief to a region reliant on a stagnated tourist economy.
“We have a very immediate need, and we have the long-term picture, and it’s so unknown,” said Sierra Community House Executive Director Paul Bancroft. “It’s really hard to plan strategically around a future that is so in flux.”
Bancroft said local leaders in the public and private sectors are making a “loosely coordinated effort” to address the region’s most pressing concerns — food insecurity, housing, child care and mental health.
The 45 health, education and social service partners that make up the Community Collaborative of Truckee Tahoe, housed by the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, offer leadership to a region where “all the county seats and government centers are at least an hour away in every direction,” Bancroft said.
This week, the foundation, which awarded $260,000 last month to local non-governmental organizations, distributed an additional $215,000 to address the still-growing effects of California’s shelter-in-place order, Board Chair Lauren O’Brien said in a news release.
The generous support to TTCF’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund, or directly to institutions on the ground, may be inspired by a sense of global solidarity, Bancroft said.
He noted the Sierra Community House received donations from community foundations based all over the state that are connected to individuals or families with a regional residence.
“To a certain extent, COVID has been a great equalizer because it’s impacted everyone on some level,” he said. “Obviously it impacts some people much worse than others — homeless people, the immigrant community — but now people are paying attention to their neighbors.”
Bancroft said the Sierra Community House launched a successful baker’s dozen campaign where contributors with limited financial capacity can commit to a minimum donation of $10 a month.
The network’s new supporters include locals and second homeowners alike, he said.
“It’s exciting to see that level of engagement,” Bancroft said. “That’s an area we’ve struggled with fundraising and donor cultivation in the past — second homeowners.”
The Sierra Community House consolidated the efforts of four resource centers in Kings Beach, Incline Village and Truckee last July to form a social service umbrella that Bancroft believes unfolded just in time.
“The nice thing with consolidating is that it feels like we have the robust programming to work with each wave as it evolves,” Bancroft said.
Even so, Bancroft said the North Lake Tahoe region needs more nourishment than what his organization can provide alone.
“We can’t serve everyone, we don’t have the capacity, it’s just not possible,” Bancroft said. “The hope is that there’s enough overlap to where no one is missed, that folks are able to get their meals somewhere.”
Fifty thousand dollars of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s second round of nonprofit support has gone to scale operations and optimize distribution services using existing infrastructure, namely that of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Sierra Community House, Sierra Senior Services, Boys & Girls Club and the Tahoe Food Hub.
North Lake Tahoe Boys & Girls Club CEO Mindy Carbajal said her organization is familiar with providing nutrition to children but has recently expanded its outreach to meet the needs of the family unit. When the club served its first grab-and-go meal on March 25 in Kings Beach and Incline Village, the intention was to provide dinners to families in need three days a week.
“The need surpassed our kitchen’s capacity,” Carbajal said.
Then the Boys & Girls Club got a call from Incline Serves, an impromptu Covid-related relief group that takes donations to pay local restaurants for preparing food for free distribution.
“We went from serving food three days a week to five days a week,” Carbajal said. “Those kinds of innovations — clearly, hunger relief is not what these businesses do — are successful because we’re thinking outside the box.”
Other longstanding organizations, such as the First Baptist Church of Tahoe City, have stepped up to help new institutions leverage their resources on behalf of the community’s well-being.
The church’s Resort Minister Bethany Hansen also coordinates with Rachel Graf of the Sierra Relief Kitchen to provide volunteers to deliver prepared food to 85 families from Truckee and Incline to the west shore. Members of the congregation have both volunteered and received food assistance in the last two months, she said.
Jen Capshaw, the church’s administrator, said because religious convenings are suspended during the shelter-in-place order, the nonprofit has lost significant revenue due to the lack of in-person donations.
First Baptist Church of Tahoe City’s church council made the decision to utilize the church’s benevolence funds in conjunction with the Tahoe Ministerial Association to provide Save Mart gift cards for those in need. They continue their work through private donors within and out of the community.
“It’s been amazing to receive support from people connected and not connected to the church,” Jen Capshaw said. “All our partners may not share all of our values, but we all want to create safe places for youth within this community, safe space for families.”
Alison Schwedner, director of the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee, said the primary mission of her partner network is to work as a collaborative to address the fundamental needs of the community.
At the start of the crisis in March, that meant getting food on the table. By May, it meant providing assistance with rents, mortgages and utility bills.
Over 55% of North Lake Tahoe’s workforce is employed in the tourist-space economy, Schwedner said.
“I believe a lot of people were paid through the end of March, and so were able to make their April rent or mortgage,” she said. “They were really challenged with making May rent because they weren’t paid through the month of April.”
Schwedner said the Town of Truckee’s offered $50,000 in Emergency Rental Relief Funds to struggling renters who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis in early May.
“Within the day, they were done distributing the money to 34 households,” she said.
Sierra Community House Executive Director Paul Bancroft said locals may not be able to save between low-paying service jobs and North Lake’s high cost of living. Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s most recent gift to nonprofits includes $65,000 to the Sierra Community House to prevent homelessness, said foundation spokesperson Makaiah Mohler.
“It’s a precarious-at-best model,” Bancroft said. “You need five jobs to live in Tahoe, but what do you do if all of those five jobs dry up?”
Bancroft expects the Sierra Community House to ramp up legal mediation services for the next wave of housing needs, when the rent is really due.
“A lot of the eviction legislation and mandates are providing immediate relief now,” Bancroft said. “In the fall, it’s really going to hit people … You still have to pay. It’s just getting deferred.”
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation granted $50,000 to the Boys & Girls Club and Local Child Care Partners to help community members balance their financial obligations and familial burdens as they return to work while schools are still closed.
“Child care is a critical component for families going back to work,” Schwedner said. “We know facilities will be open, and ratios will be different.”
Carbajal said as North Lake Tahoe counties reopen, the Boys & Girls Club will return to some semblance of its original self.
“We’re working hard to get our doors open, making sure our program is safe,” she said.
Child care providers must use protective equipment, establish new safety protocols and maintain ratios.
“We served 300 kids a day in previous summers. We’re going to serve a fraction of that,” Carbajal said.
The First Baptist Church of Tahoe City is a state-licensed child care facility that opened its doors Tuesday to provide support to families trying to return to work in the North Lake region.
“We reopened for preschool and for school-age, we’re following all the guidelines from California Public Health and the CDC,” said Pastor Scott Capshaw.
“Initially, the need out of the gate was hunger. Then we started seeing an increase in rental and utility assistance. Now we’re seeing a need in domestic violence and mental health related cases,” Bancroft said.
Rural towns across the country have less access to mental health services and higher rates of depression and isolation, Schwedner said, but resort-based communities may be even more at risk due to “party culture.”
“The shelter-in-place order was a perfect storm,” Schwedner said.
Partners in the Community Collaborative direct those in distress to the Sierra Community House’s crisis line.
“We’re really working to help people understand that it’s OK to not be OK,” Schwedner said.
Bancroft noted a marked increase in domestic violence calls since the onset of the pandemic, likely caused by acute financial stressors. And with schools closed, social service providers have lost an important window into children’s quality of life.
“Calls to Child Protective Services are low because it’s normally teachers that file those reports,” Bancroft said. “Calls are down, but that doesn’t mean abuse is not happening.”
Pre-Covid, the crisis line received 20 to 30 calls a month, Bancroft said. In April 2020, 143 calls were made to the crisis line. Half were domestic violence, sexual assault or mental health-related cases.
“We went from two suicide-related calls a month to two a week,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft explained how Vail Resorts has been an influential force in bearing witness to and addressing the high rates of suicide in mountain towns.
Sierra Community House received $50,000 from Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation to combat the detrimental mental effects of unemployment and isolation.
TTCF distributed $30,000 to Granite Wellness, Gateway Mountain Center and Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s Wellness Center to address the long-term, secondary effects of the shelter-in-place order.
Efforts to serve the community’s mental health needs include stigma reduction, crisis intervention, violence prevention, substance use disorder and suicide prevention, Mohler said in a news release.
The father of an 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, Bancroft said he knows the Sierra Community House and other area organizations will continue their Covid-related relief efforts for many more months.
“A lot of the people I’ve spoken to are pretty well aware that this is not going to be wrapped up by July 4th,” he said. “I think people are viewing this as a long-term challenge and that it will take a long time to recover.”
Bancroft said although long-term public funding sources are uncertain, his team will continue to participate in virtual dialogues and brainstorming sessions to identify emerging needs within the community.
In the meantime, he is grateful for the local outpouring of support.
“I think Covid-19 has revealed how caring and compassionate our communities are up here,” Bancroft said.
Still, the Truckee-native hopes the town does not return to business as usual after this crisis is over.
“Clearly,” Bancroft said, “it didn’t work for a lot of people.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.