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 shared with local seniors. Surprised at the undernourishment of the elderly poor, they held 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 was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) membership 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. 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 a 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, which advocates for local government funding of nonprofits supporting the social safety net and community wellness.
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. Volunteers continue to roll newspapers as a fundraiser. Newspaper collection routes are used, and the rolled paper is sold to local nurseries. Membership grows to 2,200.
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.
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.
2007 – Thrift store continues to expand adding more space for housewares and a furniture warehouse. Commercial kitchen facilities are upgraded. Hot lunches continue to be served Monday through Friday for 50 staff and volunteers.
2008 – Board approves purchase of 10,000 square foot building adjacent to Lot 3 at 2608 Chanticleer envisioning future home of food distribution facility.
2010 – Brown Bag Program membership reaches 3,400.
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, and purchase of 26-foot refrigerated truck mark significant improvements in chain of cooling and brown bag produce quality.
2012 – Computer & Electronics Store opens offering refurbished computers, electronics and appliances. First annual pancake breakfast held on July 14 with 302 served. More than 1,400 seniors attend 39th Annual Harvest Picnic at Harvey West Park. Membership grows to 4,100 with 3,700 receiving 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 40 year anniversary with new logo, tagline, mission and vision statements culminating at annual Harvest Picnic on September 24.
2014 – Total membership approaches 5,000 with 4,400 seniors receiving brown bags. Books and electronics are now listed and sold by volunteers on Amazon.com and eBay. On September 7 a fire burns through the thrift store receiving and housewares building. $75,000 worth of inventory was lost. Fire recovery fund to rebuild is established with help from donors and local community leaders.