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Support community, SOS campaign

When there has been a community need, the Sonora Area Foundation over its 18-year history has been there to help meet it.

Now, with Tuolumne County unemployment at near-record levels and thousands of residents needing help finding food, shelter, warmth and the basics of life, the need has never been greater.

So it is no surprise that foundation is again stepping to the plate. On Friday it launched “May SOS — Tuolumne County Families in Crisis,” an ambitious campaign aimed at raising a half-million dollars in just 31 days. The proceeds will go to agencies and organizations whose mission is providing a safety net for the homeless, jobless and needy.

The foundation is not going it alone: Throughout this month it will match donations from the community, dollar for dollar, up to $250,000. And, according to departing Chief Executive Officer Mick Grimes, some $100,000 has already been pledged by “lead donors.”

The cash will be distributed to three local agencies:

• The Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, for its food bank, shelter and energy assistance programs.

• Interfaith Community Social Services for food, clothing and firewood services.

• Sierra Senior Providers for Meals on Wheels and its firewood program.

All three organizations have for months faced a perfect storm of rising demand and reduced funding, particularly from government agencies.

Because the need is so urgent, said Grimes, fundraising will come in an all-out, one-month push. SAF President Celeste Boyd added that the campaign will include efforts at local schools and by local employers.
 New CEO Mark Bergstrom was encouraged by response from early donors and is confident the community will follow through.

“There is such a can-do attitude in the county,” he said. “Tuolumne County has a big heart.”

And the May SOS campaign is so timely and well directed, said Grimes, that “nobody I’ve approached has said no.”

The fund drive had its roots in an SAF-sponsored Safety Net Forum held earlier this year. At that session social services agencies reported a dramatic increase in the demand for food, shelter and firewood, higher costs and less funding.

Then came the pending closure of Gottschalks and the March announcement that Sierra Pacific Industries would shut the Standard mill in July, idling nearly 150 workers.

“The SPI closure is probably what really precipitated the campaign,” said Grimes.

If the effort is successful, results will be dramatic and may stretch over a year:

Food provided to community pantries would double, meals served to seniors by the Meals on Wheels program would rise from five to seven a week, more seniors and families would get firewood, blankets and emergency shelter would go the homeless and another 70 would be placed in transitional shelters and more than 500 would get rental assistance or help preventing foreclosure.

But just because we’ve come to expect the Sonora Area Foundation to come forward in times of trouble doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.

Over nearly two decades, this charitable foundation has distributed some $10 million in grants and has built assets of more than $28 million. It has touched and improved nearly every facet of Tuolumne County life.

In the process, it has built an unassailable reputation and won universal admiration. Its board and administrators have not only consistently done the right thing, but built an organization that is uniquely qualified to handle campaigns like this month’s Families in Crisis effort.

Our community is blessed to have the Sonora Area Foundation. And now we have a perfect way to express our gratitude: by making contributions to its May SOS campaign.

(To do so, visit www.sonora-area.org or call 533-2596).

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