A man who served his country and worked his entire adult life to provide for his family.
A single mother whose job in the food service industry gave her the income to afford a small apartment, food, other living expenses and an occasional treat for herself and her two children.
A young man, just a year out of college, using his degree to begin what he hopes will be a high-paying career in post-production.
Not one of those people — like countless others with similar stories — ever thought they would be in need of the services of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Yet today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployed, financially challenged, hungry and homeless are no longer just those on the fringes of society. They are our friends, former co-workers and neighbors. They are our fellow Burbankers.
For 46 years, nonprofit BTAC has been providing individuals and families, the working poor, senior citizens on fixed incomes and the homeless with the short-term emergency assistance they need to live with dignity. Today, as organization Executive Director Barbra Howell will tell you, the need is at an all-time peak and people who never thought they would find themselves in such a situation sit across from Howell and her staff, with tears rolling down their cheeks as they share their stories.
With the demand on BTAC’s food pantry increasing, and the nonprofit’s volunteer base — largely made up of retired seniors who are the most susceptible to the virus — greatly shrinking, those whose mission is to help are in need of help themselves.
Stepping up to the plate to offer that help, the Sunrise and Noon Rotary clubs joined forces to stage a drive-thru food drive at UMe Federal Credit Union last Saturday.
“When the pandemic hit we were just gearing up for all of our events,” said Sunrise Rotary President Kelli Lowers. “We then had to start regrouping and thinking of ways in which we could still continue our mission of raising funds and being of service to our community during this challenging time. Throughout the pandemic we have done at least one project a month, which has been a challenge, but one we have been able to do.”
Barry Gussow, president of Noon Rotary, agrees that the organization has faced many COVID-related challenges when it comes to doing what they do.
“Our city’s two Rotary clubs support one another as we do the community’” said Gussow. “Our mission is the same: To give back to those in need. So when the idea to do a drive-thru food drive came up I just called Kelli, said ‘Let’s do this,’ and she was totally on board.”
As cars pulled up and local Rotarians, with the help of Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer, unloaded food items at UMe’s Magnolia Boulevard facility on Saturday, Lowers and Gussow lauded the event’s chairwoman, Natalie Worsham.
“Natalie is a take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of person, so when we came up with the idea for this event she just ran with it,” said Gussow. “She connected with everyone from both clubs and coordinated with the great folks at UMe Credit Union to make this happen.”
Busy running from one area of the event to the other to direct cars and get items unloaded, Worsham brushed off the presidential compliments and gave credit for the day’s successful food drive to the credit union.
“The folks at UMe, especially Anita Hutchinson, are the ones who deserve all the credit,” said Worsham as she rushed by. “We could not have done this without them and they have all been great.”
UMe, a play on the words “you plus me,” is a Burbank institution that was established 80 years ago out of a local teacher’s desk drawer. The credit union was chartered in 1940 by a group of Burbank Unified School District teachers and for many years was known as the Burbank Community Federal Credit Union. Today, with more than 15,500 members, UMe sees its mission as not only to serve as a financial institution but also to be an active member of the Burbank community.
“We have a strong, heartfelt tie to Burbank,” said Hutchinson, who heads up UMe’s marketing department. “The people of this community are the ones who have made us successful, and our goal every day is to give back and help in any way we can with heart, soul and staff.”
After explaining that UMe pays each of its employees to provide eight hours of volunteer service in Burbank, Hutchinson reacted with interest to the news that BTAC is currently in dire need of volunteers.
“We can handle that,” Hutchinson said without missing a beat. “We have many young and healthy employees and interns who can make that happen and I will get in touch with Barbara Howell right away to get that going.”
Hutchinson looked over at her colleague, UMe marketing manager Steven Mozo, and they nodded in unison over what she had just decided on the spot would be their next undertaking.
“This day was meant to happen and we were meant to know what BTAC’s needs are so we can help them,” said Hutchinson. “It’s you plus me — us and them — all of us working together. That’s what we’re all about.”
Founded in 1974 by the Burbank Ministerial Association and the Burbank Coordinating Council, BTAC provides a centralized source of services for the homeless and those in financial and employment transition. It serves more than 9,000 people annually, providing food, laundry and shower facilities, financial assistance, job placement and case management.
If you or someone you know is in need of BTAC’s services, or if you would like to volunteer or make a much-needed financial donation, call (818) 848-2822.
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.