Donating during normal times is important, but even in the middle of a pandemic, giving what you can is one way to help a local community thrive.
Westerlay Orchids is doing just that, as the wholesale florist company will be donating 100% of next week’s retail proceeds to the Carpinteria Education Foundation.
This is the third straight year Westerlay is donating to the foundation, having raised more than $18,000 for the group in 2019.
“It’s harder to donate (this year) but it’s also more important and we are just going to do it,” Toine Overgaag, owner of Westerlay Orchids, told the News-Press.
“I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage and we’re going to be able to get groceries and things like that, so I am fine. It really is just about helping and it’s as simple as that.
“We could really help somebody else and it could make a real difference for some people.”
With the pandemic shaking up the school situation and forcing the fall semester to start online, the foundation said these funds have been earmarked for the technology needed for distance learning.
The foundation’s goal is to close the digital divide, allowing students to successfully participate in online learning with their peers.
“These times have changed our focus on funding, I mean we have got a couple of thousand kids now working at home which requires a whole different set of tools. A binder and pad of paper, while they’re needed now, are not as important as a computer or strong reliable internet service,” Casey Balch, president of the foundation, told the News-Press.
Mr. Balch said they hope to provide the Carpinteria school district with more Chromebooks or hotspots for the students that don’t have such luxuries at home.
“We want to ensure that every student in the district has the resources that they need, are available to them, and provided,” Mr. Balch said.
Getting technology into the hands of underprivileged students has always been a struggle. Oddly enough, due to the pandemic, being able to provide every student in the district with access to technology might be a reasonable task.
“The first step to equity is being able to ensure that kids all have access to the same education with the same tools, that’s really the most important step. The technology aspect of it is such a critical piece of the infrastructure now where it wasn’t before… Being able to provide that is really so fundamental,” Mr. Balch said.
“Technology has always been a component of learning and will continue to be for long into the future, so to get us to the level where we have enough Chromebooks for every student in the district is huge. It has been a goal, but it never seemed attainable. Now that we are rapidly approaching that goal, it is going to be phenomenal.”
The foundation’s goal for this year’s fundraiser is $100,000. While the pandemic has changed up its marketing tactics, Mr. Balch said this weekend the foundation will be mailing out flyers outlining its goals.
The original date for the fundraiser was Sept. 12, though the foundation now will have an open fundraiser until it hits its mark.
Rather than a big event, Mr. Balch said they will be running a “no-show” type of event, where people are encouraged to donate and resume their normal day.
The foundation has been ingrained in the Carpinteria community for nearly 30 years, providing a “direct impact on student lives.”
However, Mr. Balch said it’s the efforts of places like Westerlay that provide the foundation the opportunity to help students in the community.
“We’re tremendously fortunate, especially in these times, to receive their support. They’ve been supporters for years and they continue to understand and appreciate our mission of supporting the kids,” Mr. Balch said. “It’s definitely tough times for everybody and for them to continue with that support for us was honestly unexpected and we are tremendously grateful for it.
“It allows us to continue with our mission of providing the district and the children in it most especially with the resources they need to be successful that otherwise would have gone unfunded.”
The trust level between the foundation and Westerlay has never been better.
“They are awesome. They are there for the families and the kids and we are relying on them on the best way to apply the funds,” Mr. Overgaag said. “I imagine that this will not just be for the short run, this will have long-term impacts as well.”
Mr. Overgaag recalled the first time Westerlay donated to the foundation. The florist directly helped fund the arts program at Canalino Elementary. Last year, Westerlay’s donation helped the STEM programs at Aliso Elementary.
“They showed us what they were doing with it and just how the dollars were able to go so far. They were able to stretch it, and it means so much to those kids in schools,” Mr. Overgaag said.
Because of the pandemic, Mr. Overgaag hopes he can top last year’s donation of more than $18,000 to help the lower-income families that truly need the support.
“Folks who have money and have means, God bless, but they are able to muddle through. It’s people low on the economic ladder that struggle… and we see that in education so we just hope to raise even more money this year,” Mr. Overgaag said.
“It’s exciting people in the community are trying to promote it through their own social media and we do see a pop in the weekly sales. It’s a way for people to vote with their pocketbooks and help.”
All retail proceeds earned through Sept. 5 will be donated to the foundation.