Benchmarks over four decades of service
1973 – Grey Bears is conceived by Kristina Mailliard, 23, and her boyfriend, Gary Denny, 32, when they share fruits and vegetables from their garden with local seniors. Surprised at the undernourishment of the elderly poor, they held a “harvest festival” for the senior community. First year membership is 100.
1975 – Grey Bears grows to 1,000 members paying $1 per year, with about 600 receiving a weekly bag of groceries. Stories in the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and network television coverage catapults the organization and senior volunteerism into the national spotlight.
Ralph Moceo was a grower of artichokes, Brussels sprouts and asparagus and helped the organization first contact farmers to glean produce that would otherwise go to waste. The first anniversary celebrating the harvest and Brown Bag volunteers takes place on July 13th at Messiah Lutheran Church on High Street in Santa Cruz.
1984 – Grey Bears moves to the Brown Bulb Ranch. Membership has been steadily increasing to about 2,000 seniors.
1985 – Grey Bears Board of Directors purchases the first mid-county lot at 2710 Chanticleer Avenue, our current home.
1986 – Grey Bears moves to Chanticleer Avenue after refurbishing the old warehouse that was fomerly a chicken coop. Michael Manfre is the Executive Director and hires Lynda Francis as Office Manager. Grey Bears becomes a founding member of the Human Care Alliance, which advocates for local government funding of nonprofits serving those in need.
1988 – Lynda Francis is promoted to Executive Director. The first full-time Recycling Manager is hired.
1989 – Grey Bears is established as the outlet for Ecology Action, a recycling plant on 17th Avenue which had closed. Grey Bears recycling increases substantially. Volunteers continue to roll newspapers as a fundraiser. Newspaper collection routes are used, and the rolled paper is sold to local nurseries.
1992 – The Santa Cruz Recycling Alliance Program (SCRAP) is incorporated. Formerly a group of four recycling partners, SCRAP is consolidated to deter Waste Management Inc. from putting small recyclers out of business.
Grey Bears is a founding member of F.O.O.D. Crops (food organizations organizing and distributing crops) which later becomes Ag Against Hunger. Ag Against Hunger supplies Grey Bears with 750,000 pounds of produce per year. They become a central organizing component for the ag community.
1996 – Grey Bears purchases the recycling property (lot #3), creating space to separate the brown bag program from the recycling center. The first contract with the County is signed to run the recycling center at the Buena Vista Landfill.
2000 – Grey Bears board of directors collaborates with the County Board of Supervisors to operate the Chanticleer Avenue public recycling center.
2004 – Santa Cruz Composting Pilot Program is installed at Grey Bears for the County with the purchase of four Earth Tubs to capture and compost program food waste.
2006 – Computer lab is created with 10 workstations, high-speed internet and screen-shot wall projector. Free, low-cost and by-donation classes offered to seniors in computers, Spanish, cooking, Taiko drumming and exercise.
Commercial kitchen facilities are upgraded. Hot lunches continue to be served Monday through Friday for 50 staff and volunteers.
2010 – Brown Bag Program membership reaches 3,400.
2011 – Lynda Francis retires after 25 years of service; Board of Directors selects Tim Brattan as Executive Director. Newspaper rolling room closes due to lack of newsprint. Room is renovated into expanded section of Thrift Store. Purchase of two additional coolers (doubling total cooler space) and 26-foot refrigerated truck mark significant improvements in chain of cooling and brown bag produce quality.
2012 – Computer & Electronics Store opens offering refurbished electronics and appliances. First annual pancake breakfast held on July 14 with 302 served. More than 1,400 seniors attend 36th Annual Harvest Picnic at Harvey West Park. Membership grows to 4,100.
2013 – First Santa Cruz Repair Cafe held at Grey Bears on May 4, with volunteer “Fixit Coaches” helping the public repair broken electronics, appliances, toys, clothing, furniture and other household items.
Grey Bears celebrates 40 years serving our community at the annual Harvest Picnic on September 24.