For more than 13 years our Mental Health Program Community Connection has partnered with fellow agencies to host the South County Mental Health Thanksgiving. This annual event has traditionally brought over 300 mental health participants and their families together to connect, celebrate, and enjoy a meal the day before Thanksgiving.
As with so many events this year, this in-person event has been cancelled, but our staff were determined to come up with an alternative way to provide for those in need of a warm meal and a personal connection.
This year instead, Community Connection staff, our AmeriCorps team, and employee volunteers from the Santa Cruz Warriors including Mav’riks the mascot hand-delivered gift bags to 100 participants living in mental health housing units or who are unhoused. Gift bags included a warm blanket and hat, handmade masks, and food gift cards to allow recipients to purchase a warm meal at an area deli or store. Items were made possible with donations from Santa Cruz County Mental Health, Santa Cruz Warriors, and private donors.
“In the mental health community we focus our services and communications around how we can overcome barriers to build the resilience needed to move forward and lead healthier lives. If ever there was a year to walk our talk, 2020 is the year. Leaning on the ambitious spirit of our community, we felt we needed to continue our Thanksgiving tradition in some way,” states Community Connection South County Site Manager Jodie Wells.
“It has been our greatest challenge and commitment in 2020 to adapt and continue to build relationships with those who so desperately need support, hope, and connection,” continues Wells.
As one of the longest running programs of the Volunteer Center, Community Connection is dedicated to helping adults lead healthier and more productive lives by overcoming mental health and chemical dependency challenges. Through their resources and tools, they enable people to provide a life for themselves and their families. Their programs help adults build stronger bridges to the community through education, job, housing, and lifestyle support.
As with so many nonprofit programs, at Community Connection we had to shutter our doors to most in-person meetings and consultation for much of this year, but the commitment to serve our community never wavered and our programs remained open for emergency services and tele-services.
Every year through Community Connection we work with more than 650 community members and their families and we are still doing this work. This year we have honed our focus and adapted our services to meet the most immediate critical needs of the mental health community. We’ve provided daily phone check-ins and face to face emergency services to those in need of food, access to healthcare, or having a psychiatric emergency. In all, we have provided more than 4,000 tele-health services for adults with mental health challenges since March and in this time have distributed nearly 2000 bags of food.
This work has been a lifeline for so many in Santa Cruz County. Those working in the mental health sector locally can attest to the daily rise in need that is being recognized throughout the country. As the pandemic drags on it has brought with it a new wave of mental health crises in the US where the number of people reporting anxiety issues is currently 3 times higher than this same time last year. This from a system where already, 1 in 5 adults endure mental illness each year and yet less than half receive treatment.
“It is an isolating time for so many of us and for those who were already struggling prior to the pandemic, it can feel insurmountable. I am so proud to work for an organization that continues to show up for others and lend their hearts each day despite the barriers presented in 2020,” states Wells.
“I loved seeing all of the smiles while delivering the gift bags. I love that we always get more than we give when we give of ourselves. By lifting others, we lift ourselves. Whether we give our time or our funds we each have the ability to create joy and hope,” continues Wells.
We invite you to learn more about Community Connection and how to support their work.
As we continue to work in partnership with mental health professionals who have the skills, expertise, and foundations in place to bolster the lives of those who are often turned away, we hope that the larger community will step up to help us sustain this effort. With colder, darker days ahead, we want to ensure we have the funds needed to keep our community safe.
You can help by donating to Community Connection.
Aside from donating, if you are interested in finding ways that you too can show up and provide hope for those who most need it during the holiday season, we maintain a Holiday Volunteer Guide. This year’s guide provides a host of at-home and social distant volunteer options to help your neighbors. View the Holiday Volunteer Guide.