Our History

Benchmarks over four decades of service

1973 – Grey Bears is conceived by UCSC students Kristina Mailliard, 23, and her boyfriend, Gary Denny, 32. As a project for their major, they glean fruits and vegetables from local farmers and gardens and share with local seniors. Surprised at the undernourishment of the elderly poor, they hold a harvest festival attended by 100 seniors.

1974 – The first Grey Bears Holiday dinner takes place at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Volunteer cooks led by Thelma Dalman prepared the dinner at the old County hospital kitchen on Emeline Avenue. Thelma was a member of the first board of directors and was the holiday dinner’s head chef for the next 25 years.

1975 – Working out of local grower Ralph Moceo’s warehouse on Fair Avenue on the westside of Santa Cruz, Grey Bears quickly grows to 1,400 members paying $1 per year to receive weekly produce. Fifteen farms open their fields to volunteer gleaners to pick produce that would otherwise go to waste. Stories in the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine and network television coverage catapults Grey Bears and senior volunteerism into the national spotlight.

1976 – Grey Bears incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The first anniversary celebrating Brown Bag program 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. Number of seniors served by the program increases steadily to about 2,000.

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 former chicken coop into a warehouse. Michael Manfre is the Executive Director and hires Lynda Francis as Office Manager. Grey Bears becomes a founding member of the Human Care Alliance, an alliance of nonprofits supporting the social safety net and community wellness.

1988 – Lynn Francis appointed 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. Volunteers continue to roll newspapers as a fundraiser. Newspaper collection routes are used, and the rolled paper is sold to local nurseries. Seniors served by the Brown Bag Program now at 2,200 following Loma Prieta earthquake.

1990 – Grey Bears named one of the “Thousand Points of Light” by President George H.W. Bush administration.

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 AgainstHunger supplies Grey Bears with 750,000 pounds of produce per year. They become a central organizing component for the ag community.

Board approves purchase of adjacent lot at 2650 Chanticleer, doubling property space. A full time thrift store is opened in place of quarterly rummage sales.

1996 –Grey Bears purchases a third adjacent lot at 2620 Chanticleer dedicated to a recycling drive-through drop off center. A contract with the County is signed to manage the recycling center at the Buena Vista Landfill.

2000 – Grey Bears Board of Directors successfully advocates to the County Board of Supervisors for help underwrite operating costs of the Chanticleer public recycling center.

sa-he_disassembly2002 – Grey Bears begins accepting e-waste recycling, accepting computers, printers, televisions, appliances and other electronics.

2004 – Santa Cruz Composting Pilot Program begins with County assisted purchase of four Earth Tubs to capture and compost Brown Bag 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.

2007 – Thrift store adds more space for housewares and a furniture warehouse. Commercial kitchen facilities are upgraded. Daily hot lunches continue to be served to volunteers and staff.

2008 – Board approves purchase of 10,000 square foot building adjacent to existing property at 2608 Chanticleer envisioning future home of food distribution facility.

2010 – Brown Bag Program now distributing to 3,400 senior recipients.

2011 – Lynda Francis retires after 25 years of service; Board selects Tim Brattan as Executive Director. Newspaper rolling room closes due to lack of newsprint; room is renovated into expanded section of Thrift Store. Two additional food coolers double total cooler space; purchase of 26-foot refrigerated truck mark significant improvements in chain of cooling and brown bag produce quality.

2012 – Computer & GB_repair_cafeElectronics Store opens offering refurbished computers, electronics and appliances. More than 1,400 seniors attend 39th Annual Harvest Picnic at Harvey West Park. Brown Bag program now serving 3,700 seniors with weekly brown bags. Weekly chair yoga classes begin.

2013 – First Santa Cruz Repair Cafe held at Grey Bears on May 4 with volunteer “fixit coaches” helping the public repair broken electronics, appliances and other household items. Grey Bears celebrates 40th anniversary with new logo, tagline, mission and vision statements culminating at annual Harvest Picnic on September 24.flames_long_view

2014 – Number of weekly brown bag recipients grows to 4,400 seniors. Books and electronics are now listed and sold by volunteers on Amazon.com and eBay. A September 7 fire burns through the thrift store receiving and housewares building. $75,000 worth of inventory lost. Fire recovery fund to rebuild is established with help from donors and local community partners.

2015 – For-profit subsidiary, SCRAP, closes. Grey Bears named the 2015 Organization of the Year by Aptos Chamber of Commerce community.

2016 – Construction begins on new 3,000 square foot thrift store building to replace the one lost to fire. Repair Cafe’s are now held quarterly. Brown bag recipients now at 4,200.