Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation finds creative ways to continue fundraising
One of the organizations greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is Santa Barbara’s Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.
Despite the challenges, the nonprofit is continuing to carry out its mission by thinking outside the box.
Founded in 2002, the foundation advocates for families living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties who have a child with cancer.
“Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is the only local organization to provide financial, educational and emotional support to families battling pediatric cancer in the Tri-Counties. We provide a variety of support programs to families of youth up to age 21,” Interim Executive Director Eryn Shugart said in a statement. “Only through the generosity of our incredible community can we continue to support the growing needs of the families we serve.”
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, the TBCF has seen a massive decline in donations and has been forced to cancel two of their biggest fundraising events, the California Clam Bake and the Gold Ribbon Luncheon. The latter event contributes approximately one-third of the organization’s annual operating income.
“We will be fine in the long run, but this year we are definitely going to take a huge hit,” Kirsten Stuart, the foundation’s development and communications director, said.
Although this year will be a struggle for the foundation, Ms. Stuart told the News-Press that the struggle for the families that they serve has been even greater. She said because many of the parents of the families they serve work in the service industry that they have been “double-impacted” during the pandemic due to being out of work.
Ms. Stuart also said the foundation has seen an increase in requests for support as more families are losing income. She also explained how a couple families in dire need have even had to reach out and ask for gift cards just to get food.
“Everybody says ‘they need us now more than ever,’ but it’s actually kind of true for our demographic,” Ms. Stuart said.
Fortunately, creative solutions are being found during the pandemic.
A family that was a former recipient of TBCF’s support programs reached out and offered gift cards, sparking a spontaneous campaign where the foundation was able to help raise more than $7,000 worth of food gift cards for families in dire need.
Ms. Stuart said the foundation raised the funds in a little less than a week.
“There are a lot of really good things that can happen when you’re in the middle of crises like this,” Ms. Stuart said. “And that’s what we want to focus on.”
Just like raising money for food gift cards, the TBCF has found other creative ways to carry out its mission.
For example, the foundation discovered ways to continue its emotional support program by starting virtual services for the children they serve. Ms. Stuart said for a lot of those children, the effects of the pandemic have been more severe because many are undergoing chemotherapy, which causes them to have weakened immune systems.
Instead of normal in-person support groups, Ms. Stuart said the foundation has hosted virtual programs such as online support groups, parties for kids on social media, storytime for kids and sing-a-longs.
According to Ms. Stuart, because of how much the kids and parents love these new events, they are turning into something that will continue after when people can gather in person again.
And in lieu of its annual spring California Clam Bake, the nonprofit created the new Paella Picnic.
The picnic is set to take place noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 1. The event will be held with the help of local small businesses, SB Paella Catering, at the Village Properties’ parking lot and outdoor area in Santa Barbara.
“The event is like a ‘pick-up party,’ you might attend through one of our local wineries’ wine clubs,” Ms. Stuart explained. “You’ll drive in, park, pick up a beautiful bag filled with paella for four, wine, dessert and a gift, then take it home to enjoy in your backyard with friends, or maybe even in the park.”
On top of giving gift bags, the TBCF will also be holding an Opportunity Drawing, a Wine Pull and a Giving Tree to help fundraise money for the local families TBCF supports.
According to the press release, “The Opportunity Drawing will feature three very robust packages: 1) Three SONOS speakers, 2) a Fashion Spree including a Burberry bag, a beautiful necklace and a champagne shopping experience at Giuliana Montecito, and 3) a Staycation package that includes a paella dinner for 10 from SB Paella Catering along with a variety of other local excursions and experiences.”
Ms. Stuart said the foundation hopes the Paella Picnic can help make up for some of the lost donations. She noted all proceeds will support local families facing the financial and emotional hardships of a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
She also said that even if a family doesn’t qualify for financial aid, it can still get the educational and emotional support.
“You never know how important the impact of Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is until you meet some of the families, hear their stories and see the appreciation in their faces,” Maria Wilson, one of the event organizers, said in a statement. “The money we are raising from this event will allow these parents to focus on their child in need, so they can be there for that child.”
To replace its normal sponsorship benefits as well as help out local businesses, TBCF is also providing gift cards to restaurants in downtown Santa Barbara to their donors.
“These businesses are why we’re here now,” Ms. Stuart said, referring to their donations over the years to the foundation. “We’re a local charity, and this is our way of supporting local small businesses by offering these gift cards.”
Ms. Stuart said she encourages others to give time and, if they can, money to local nonprofits like the TBCF because “everybody is seeing a huge reduction in income.”
“Nobody really knows what next week looks like,” Ms. Stuart said. “We need donations to keep this going and to support these families.”
For more information or to donate, go to teddybearcancerfoundation.org or call the foundation at 805-962-7466.