Keeping our neighbors in good stead, healthy, and fed seems to have emerged as the theme of 2020.

While there have always been a few members of the community with such things on their minds as a matter of course, more of us spare a thought for others as needs have increased greatly, and some existing systems have faltered. Some organizations have retooled the scope of their operations or changed the way they do business.

For example, in March 2018, Bobby DeLancelotti started the “Got Your Back” program at Del Mar Elementary School. Acting on eye-opening information from Principal Janet Gould about the nature and scope of poverty-driven food insecurity in Central Coast public schools, Got Your Back started serving a handful of students identified as being the most in need.

Under the activities of a campus nutrition club, a group of volunteers came together to fill students’ backpacks with nonperishable food on Fridays for the children to take home for the weekend. The empty backpacks returned for a refill the next week, throughout the school year, and into summer school.

The Estero Bay Kindness Coalition (EBKC) sprang up as a desire for the program’s expansion led to eight regional schools and the addition of two other initiatives, forming what DeLancelotti calls a “Mom and Pop” non-profit.

“The name is two things,” DeLancelotti said, breaking down the basics for a pesky reporter who called during his grandkids’ little league practice. First, “Estero Bay as a region, because this is needed all over the Central Coast, but we don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver. Right now we can cover Los Osos, Morro Bay, Cayucos up to Cambria, and San Simeon. [And second,] the coalition is about spreading love and care.”

While his past career as an organizer was pastoral in the Christian faith, he adds, EBKC is an operation with no strings attached to the help given and approximately 55 volunteers whose only public motivation is kindness.

“We’re here to build bridges of love and dignity with respect,” he said. “It can be so much harder to receive than to give. It can be really very easy to give, in fact, but if you’re in a position to accept help, you deserve to be treated with kindness and without judgment.”

With the onset of COVID-19, distributing aid directly to the students at school has not been possible, and the same kids have lost the regular supply of free school lunch and even breakfast programs, which so many—up to 60 percent in some of the participating schools—relied on. “Bags of Love,” emerged as the broader scope food program launched by the EBKC to provide groceries directly to a roster of roughly 90 households encompassing 200 students.

Principals and the school districts‘ contracted bilingual School Advocates have been able to arrange the food drops with families through the use of their records and direct observations, without compromising the anonymity of recipients.

So far, it’s a marked feel-good success story in troubled times, but the situational reality is that no matter how much individuals strive to do for each other, all efforts become a drop in the ocean of what is needed.

As the Coalition’s basic plea for support notes, “There are more hungry people than the organization is
currently able to feed. EBKC does not currently have enough resources (gas money to pay our drivers, volunteers, food, and a large van or vehicle) to truly meet the needs of our community.”

While the strong backs and shoulders of volunteers have taken most of the physical strain off the DeLancelottis personally, the material needs of a distribution system are still a struggle.

A highlighted need would be for the donation (or use through acquisition by other means) of a large, gently used van.

Food itself is still collected at donation points, two each in Morro Bay and Los Osos, but half of their drop off locations ceased to be viable after COVID-closures. Only 5 percent, he said, of their food distribution now comes directly from the public.

Economies of scale and the near-miraculous ability to receive PayPal and Venmo donations directly through the electronic payment platforms have allowed them to budget $4,000 a month to purchase and distribute staple foods in bulk (items rich in protein to fuel growing minds, being the most important).

In August, a physically distanced, digitally broadcast benefit concert was also able to generate $13,000 towards that bottom line. Eight months into a national crisis; however, those contributions were already spoken for by the time of this article’s publication.

Currently participating elementary schools are Baywood Elementary, Cambria Elementary, Cayucos Elementary, Del Mar Elementary, Monarch Grove Elementary, and Morro Bay Montessori-Charter School with Cambria Middle School and Los Osos Middle School joining.

Contact, volunteering, and donation information, and more about a third program in the works, the “Sunshine and Seed” a Kids Clothing Collective, is available online at esterobaykindnesscoalition.org, or contact (805) 305-5671, bdelancellotti@gmail.com.