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. Surprised at the undernourishment of the elderly poor, they glean fruits and vegetables from local farmers and gardens and share with local seniors. They hold a harvest festival attended by 300 seniors, 60 of whom bring food to share.

1974 – The first Grey Bears Holiday dinner takes place at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Volunteer cooks led by Thelma Dalman prepare 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. Volunteers begin delivering brown bags to nine sites and to many homebound seniors. 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 California Farmer, and network television coverage catapults Grey Bears and senior volunteerism into national spotlight.

1976 – Grey Bears incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The first anniversary celebrating Brown Bag volunteers takes place on July 13th at Messiah Lutheran Church on High Street in Santa Cruz. Kristina Mailliard voted “Woman of the Year” by Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. 2,000 seniors attend Holiday Dinner at Civic Auditorium.

1981 – Grey Bears distributes two million pounds of food at a cost of $.07 cents per pound, delivered to 37 distribution sites and to homebound seniors nine months of the year. Membership rates increase to $5 per year to help pay for program costs. Newspaper rolling for sale to the floral industry begins.

1984 – Grey Bears moves to 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. Grey Bears becomes a founding member of the Human Care Alliance, a group of nonprofits supporting the social safety net and community wellness.

1988 – Lynn Francis appointed Executive Director. 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 and newspaper collection routes are used. Seniors served by the Brown Bag Program reaches 2,200 following Loma Prieta earthquake.

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

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. 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 – A contract with the County is signed to help underwrite costs to operate Chanticleer public recycling center.

sa-he_disassembly2002 – Grey Bears begins accepting e-waste recycling, including 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 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 weekly produce to 3,400 aging adults.

2011 – Lynn 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. 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 4,000 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 – Grey Bears named the 2015 Organization of the Year by Aptos Chamber of Commerce community. Grey Bears membership votes to change Article 6 of bylaws rescinding membership governance of organization. SCRAP subsidiary is closed.

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.

2017 – New thrift store building opens on July 5. Grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting takes place on August 1. Community Foundation Santa Cruz County grant funds provides funding for purchase of Recycletech 200 densifier to process expanded polystyrene (EPS6 or Styrofoam). Recycling center now accepts this material for the first time countywide.

2018 – An 18 kW photo-voltaic solar system is installed on new thrift store building generating 93% of electrical energy needs on the 2650 Chanticleer property. Grey Bears voted Best Nonprofit by readers of Good Times and Santa Cruz Waves magazine. First shipment of Styrofoam – 10 tons – shipped.