The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade knows the importance of community action.
When the community volunteer response organization was formed in response to the devastating Montecito debris flow in 2018, they were able to deploy 3,000 volunteers to dig out over 100 homes and open spaces, turning a seemingly hopeless situation into a testament to Santa Barbara’s hard work and communal spirit.
Over the past year, they’ve continued to learn how people organizing together can catalyze enormously powerful efforts that can be helpful for everything from climate change to pandemics.
“Whether we’re talking about the fires in California, the debris flow, or a pandemic, communities need to work together because the federal government can’t always pivot and take care of things right away,” said Abe Powell, executive director of the Bucket Brigade.
“In the initial battle it’s you and the resources around you in every disaster, and the more organized and collaborative that resource network is and ready to deploy, the better off you are.”
Looking to build from their experiences and rally Santa Barbara to help where they can, the Bucket Brigade has launched the “Most Mask Maker Challenge,” a contest and call to action to find out who is the “Rockstar of Sewing” in Santa Barbara County.
Until 5 p.m. April 30, volunteers can sign up at https://bit.ly/3cvgQQU and will receive a package of materials, enough for 20 masks. Following the CDC approved sewn cloth face covering instructions and guidelines on the website, volunteers can sew up a storm in an attempt to win an assortment of prizes.
You can keep the masks, or return them to the Bucket Brigade for another package of materials. The more you make, the more you win. Thirty masks will get you a Bucket Brigade T-Shirt, 60 a T-Shirt and hat, and 100 a T-Shirt, hat, hoodie, and a $25 Rusty’s Pizza delivery gift certificate.
At the end of the contest, whoever sews the most masks will claim the grand prize, which includes a $300 Trader Joe’s gift certificate, your own ”Santa Barbara Sewing Superhero” page on the Bucket Brigade website, a complete skateboard from Powell Peralta, and more.
So far 170 people have signed up, and in just a week, the Bucket Brigade has collected 1,500 masks, with over 2,000 masks-worth of material distributed so far.
“We have a database of over 3,000 volunteers, so we figured some of them must be able to sew. We were right,” said Mr. Powell.
The good masks go to local agencies. So far the Bucket Brigade has delivered hundreds of masks to organizations serving the homeless, the Visiting Nurses Association, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, and more.
“Basically who we’re giving them to are critical service workers, and the county has a prioritized list of different agencies that need face-coverings,” said Mr. Powell.
“We figured if we get this done everybody that can make face-coverings should make face-coverings for the next two months. There’s almost 450,000 people in the county. If everyone needs two masks ultimately that’s almost a million masks. With critical services workers there’s tens of thousands of masks that need to get made, so we’re just cranking,”
The Bucket Brigade is also crowdsourcing the making of face shields, buying raw materials and giving them to people and getting masks in return. So far they have delivered about 2,250 to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the Sheriff’s Department, and grocery stores.
“They’re pretty stoked,” said Mr. Powell. “When you don’t have PPE in a pandemic you feel pretty exposed. For your community to find a way to step up to get you what you need by patterning and cooperating on an unusual level and in an unusual way is rad. I think everyone feels that that’s what we need to be doing. Pulling together and helping each other figure it out.”
In addition to getting much-needed equipment to those fighting on the front lines against the coronavirus, a big part of the project is helping people connect during isolation in a positive way for a positive purpose, said Mr. Powell.
“One of the more important parts of this project is that it gives people that are self-quarantined and feeling really disconnected and isolated not only a way to connect, but to help other people and have agency to be doing something about the problem while they’re locked away in their house,” Mr. Powell told the News-Press.
In addition to organizing the contest, the Bucket Brigade has been holding weekly Neighborhood Mutual Aid Forums in English and Spanish, where different neighborhood groups host a weekly webinar and discuss neighborhood organizing and how you can get involved, complete with helpful video tutorials and powerpoints.
“One of our initial projects was shopping for your neighbors and trying to organize neighborhoods to find out who is quarantined and help them get the supplies they need,” said Mr. Powell.
“We’ve had a really busy month. We’ve just been pushing.”
All of the efforts by the Bucket Brigade come from a lesson learned from the debris flow: resilience is local.
“The foundation of all resilience is local community connection. When you see all of a sudden everyone’s stuck in their houses, you’re stuck with the people around you in your neighborhood. Those are the people you see, and that’s your resource,” said Mr. Powell. “Your neighbors are the ones that will help you out, giving you a roll of toilet paper or handing out masks.”
Mr. Powell said the volunteers at the Bucket Brigade have realized the key to building resilience nationwide is simple. You want to build resilience in the United States, you just do it in your neighborhood.
“If everybody does that, problem solved,” said Mr. Powell.
“The best thing about what’s happening right now and what we feel like a part of is a huge community collaboration where different groups are finding ways to work together that they haven’t before to do things they never imagined they’d have to do, and I think what we’re seeing is totally Santa Barbara-style.”