History

Benchmarks over five decades of service

1973 – Grey Bears is conceived by UCSC graduate Kristina Mailliard, 23, and her boyfriend, Gary Denny, 32. Surprised at the undernourishment of the elderly poor, they glean fruits and vegetables from their gardens and share with local seniors. They hold a harvest festival attended by 300 seniors, 60 of whom bring food to share.

1974 – First annual 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  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 1,200 members, 700 of whom pay $1 per year to receive weekly produce. Volunteers begin delivering food to nine sites and to 190 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 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.

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. Annual participation increases to $5 per year to help pay for food and program costs. Newspaper rolling for sale to the floral industry begins.

1984 – Move to Brown Bulb Ranch provides more central location as seniors served by the program increases steadily to about 2,000.

1985 – Board of Directors purchases their first mid-county lot at 2710 Chanticleer Avenue, our current home.

1986 – Food deliveries start at new location after refurbishing former chicken coop into a warehouse and new cooler. Michael Manfre is the Executive Director. Grey Bears becomes a founding member of the Human Care Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy agency 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 closed. Volunteers continue to roll newspapers for South County flower growers as a fundraiser and newspaper collection routes are used. Seniors served by the Healthy Food Delivery 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 – Grey Bears is a founding member of F.O.O.D. Crops (food organizations organizing and distributing crops) which becomes Ag Against Hunger. Ag Against Hunger 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 – Composting pilot program begins with County assisted purchase of two Earth Tubs to capture and compost food waste. By 2012, four additional Earth Tubs are acquired composting a total of 100 tons of organic waste, yielding 20 tons of high-quality compost augmenting local gardens.

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 – Healthy Food program now distributing weekly produce to 3,300 seniors.

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 40-foot produce container coolers and refrigerated truck purchased.

2012 – Expanded Computer GB_repair_cafeElectronics Store opens. More than 1,400 seniors attend 39th Annual Harvest Picnic at Harvey West Park. Healthy Food program now serving 3,600 seniors. Chair yoga classes begin.

2013 – First Santa Cruz Repair Café held May 4 with volunteer fixit coaches helping the public repair non-working 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 – A September 7 fire burns through the thrift store donations and housewares building. $75,000 worth of inventory lost. Fire recovery fund is established with help from donors and local community partners. Books and electronics are now listed and sold by volunteers on Amazon.com and eBay.

2015 – Grey Bears named 2015 Organization of the Year by Aptos Chamber of Commerce community. Grey Bears membership votes to change Article 6 of bylaws moving governance to Board of Directors.

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 July 5th. Grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting takes place on August 1. Community Foundation Santa Cruz County grant funds purchase of RecycleTech densifier to process expanded polystyrene (EPS#6 Styrofoam). Chanticleer center now accepts this material for the first time countywide.

2018 – 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 21,000 pounds of processed Styrofoam (EPS) ships in June.

2019 – Ag Against Hunger merges with the Food Bank of Monterey County, which now provides 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce to Grey Bears each year. New 4-year recycling contract signed with the County that includes operation of both Buena Vista and Ben Lomond Transfer Station recycling centers.

2020 – CRV beverage container buy-back begins at Ben Lomond Transfer Station. Due to COVID-19 pandemic and CZU Complex Fire, our 47 Annual Harvest Picnic and  Holiday Dinner are combined in drive-through events. Nearly 1,000 meals are delivered to homebound fire evacuees, and 1,250 holiday are picked up by seniors at Chanticleer and Watsonville Senior Center. 4,200 seniors receiving weekly healthy food deliveries with 1,400 door-to-door. Santa Cruz Sentinel readers vote Grey Bears Best Thrift Store, Best Specialty/Gift Shop, and Runner up Best Bookstore.