Local agencies link together for special event to benefit families in need
Helping those in need is anything but in short supply during this COVID-19 pandemic, and Saturday was another example of that.
Welcome Every Baby Family Connects and Health Linkages, two programs under the nonprofit Children & Family Resource Services offered by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, held a special event Saturday morning at Hope Elementary School to help the district’s transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students.
The event provided families and children with a ton of goodies, including baby supplies, oral health kits, fresh produce, books, and even free dental screenings.
“This went great. The parents were really happy, everything moved along very smoothly and people really didn’t have to wait much at all. I was just talking with one of our nurses and she said the families just really are grateful they really appreciated it,” MaryEllen Rehse, coordinator for Health Linkages, told the News-Press.
Ms. Rehse said it took about two months of planning for the event to come together, as it continued to expand and add new elements.
For example, after getting donations of diapers, the district had the idea of adding the oral health aspect. From there, the event kept growing until Saturday when it all came together.
“It really was a great collaborative effort about two months in the making. We really wanted to make sure we could do it in a safe way and it really just went great,” Ms. Rehse said.
Agencies that helped the event run smoothly included the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County which provided the produce, The Berry Man which provided plants and fruits, and Direct Relief which provided family dental kits.
WEB-FC provided the diapers and sippy cups, while the local oral agency provided floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and educational books.
“It’s great that we brought the community together and that we were able to collaborate with different agencies,” said Jennyffer Rivera, one of the oral health program managers.
Ms. Rivera was one of the key figures in helping all the agencies collaborate for the event. She was pleased with how well everything went and was thrilled to see the educational aspect of teaching the younger kids.
“All the families were grateful and we saw a lot of babies, so a lot of the education is starting young. We’re very happy and pleased and it went well, so we’re hoping to expand this out into other communities and even with more collaboration,” Ms. Rivera said.
According to Ms. Rehse, about 50 families scheduled to show up on Saturday to receive the extra support.
“I know a lot of folks really appreciate the help with the food, and especially diapers because they are expensive so that’s really a great help to people but it’s been great for us. My whole staff has been excited because with kids not being back in school, we weren’t able to get out there and do our usual dental screenings and other education. We were happy we could find a safe way to do it,” Ms. Rehse said.
One of the more important things they did on Saturday was the dental screenings.
“Being able to have our dental professionals here was really important because a lot of dental clinics, especially for folks who may have Medicare, a lot of those weren’t able to reopen or they reopened at a lower capacity, so a lot of kids aren’t able to get the dental checks they normally would. To make that happen was important,” Ms. Rehse said.
While many kids and even adults might dread going to the dentist, yearly checkups are important, especially at a young age.
“You forget about your teeth easily, especially when you’re not being constantly reminded, you’re not going to school and you’re not really getting that education. These kinds of events are good to reach out to kids and remind them,” said Kavneet Bhatti, another oral health program manager.
“Plus with all these goodies and incentives and the fun pictures and stuff like that, it gets the kids excited.”
The checkups were done in cars and were provided to both the students and families. Each person received a regular check-up and then a quick fluoride treatment.
While it was a bit difficult to do it in a car, Ms. Bhatti noted a lot of the kids were more comfortable because they knew they had their parents right there with them.
“Posture wise it was a little tough, but it’s better than nothing for these kids. And it’s nice to see the kids that they’re comfortable with their family right there and they don’t have to leave their comfort zone,” she said.
For Ms. Bhatti, she was also very happy to lend her support and be able to help these families that could use an extra hand.
“It’s nice to be able to finally reach out. Everyone’s been stuck at home and I feel good giving back because it is my job as a hygienist. Reminding people that your teeth are important and to come back and get checkups and then remind them that they are cared for and we are here,” Ms. Bhatti said.
She added that many of the families were grateful just to receive the help and she saw plenty of smiles.
“I think it was really good for a pilot. It was really successful. I think there are a couple of things we can fix next time, but it’s not that big of a deal and I think it went really smoothly. Running this once a month would be great,” Ms. Bhatti said.
With everyone agreeing that Saturday was a success, the only question now is how to build upon it.
Ms. Rehse is confident the event was a great building block for the future for the families who will continue to need help during, and even after, the pandemic.
“Now that we have our system down, because this was our first drive-through style event, it shouldn’t take us that long to plan. But we still want to make sure it’s safe before we replicate in different neighborhoods,” Ms. Rehse said.
“This was our first shot and it was somewhat limited by how many dental professionals we had, so my thought was if we can show what we did here today, we can probably have some other dentists and hygienists who are willing to volunteer and then we can make a bigger drive-through with more kids.
“With about 50 cars, this was pretty easy so I’m sure we could ramp up to 100 and maybe even 150.”