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EVC launches supply drive to help struggling child care industry in SLO County

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The main goal of the Economic Vitality Corporation (EVC) is to support and grow San Luis Obispo's business community however possible, which includes supporting the local workforce. And that isn't possible without local child care providers, according to EVC Director of Business Strategy Jill LeMieux.

"You can't talk about making businesses stronger without having the child care conversation," LeMieux told New Times.

A HELPING HAND The Economic Vitality Corporation is hosting a supply drive aimed at gathering much-needed COVID-19 safety supplies and funds for SLO County's hurting child care providers. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • A HELPING HAND The Economic Vitality Corporation is hosting a supply drive aimed at gathering much-needed COVID-19 safety supplies and funds for SLO County's hurting child care providers.

SLO County's lack of child care has come up over and over again in EVC's conversations with business owners and their employees. Working parents complained of costly programs and waitlists for day care services that were so long it would take years to for their children to be accepted.

So LeMieux said EVC started 2020 off with plans to offer resources to local child care programs that could make their services more accessible for all.

"And then we got hit with COVID," LeMieux said.

Since then, the already struggling child care industry has had to work around obstacles related to coronavirus safety precautions. Despite declining enrollment and tuition revenue, they're required to clean more often, provide personal protective equipment to students and staff, offer distance learning support services, and look after smaller and separated groups of children, which all require more staff time and more money.

The point, LeMieux said, is most of SLO County's child care providers are barely keeping their doors open.

"And we need them to keep their doors open so that people can get back to work," she said.

So EVC, in partnership with Community Action Partnership of SLO County, First 5, and the Child Care Planning Council, is holding a supply drive aimed at collecting money and supplies that will be distributed to 290 local child care programs.

The goal, LeMieux said, is to encourage businesses that benefit so much from child care and are already purchasing hard-to-find supplies—gloves, disinfectant wipes, no-contact thermometers, cloth masks, hand sanitizer, etc.—to order a few extra boxes for child care providers. Anyone can donate through Jan. 27.

"Just small donations could add up to a big impact," LeMieux said.

Kimberly Love is a preschool teacher who owns Bright Life Playschool Incorporated, 1130 Orcutt Road in San Luis Obispo, and she said all donations—no matter how small—help in ways people likely can't imagine.

"We're not making any money," Love told New Times. "We're barely breaking even trying to wait this out."

When public schools first closed in March, Bright Life was prepared to continue offering services, but no one showed up. So Love closed for about two months and stopped charging tuition. When she partially reopened in June, she had to replace some of her high-risk employees who weren't comfortable coming to work.

Due to coronavirus limits on class sizes, she had to hire two additional full-time staff just to cover breaks, lunches, and all the extra cleaning required. In total, the changes cost Bright Life about an extra $5,000 a month, Love said. Bright Life cleans its classrooms and outside play equipment multiple times a day, provides masks to all staff and students, is required to have Clorox wipes on-site, and goes through a box of gloves—which have to be changed between every temperature check—each week.

"We're just constantly having to replenish this ongoing added expense, and we don't get any more money," she said.

That's where most child care providers are at right now, according to Shana Paulson, children services manager at Community Action Partnership of SLO. An already underpaid and undervalued group of professionals now has to do so much more with even less, she said.

But Paulson said she has a lot of hope for the future. She hasn't seen the general community step up to help child care programs at this level before, and at a time when so many other sectors are hurting too.

"It's more than a supply drive," Paulson said. "It's kind of an embracing of our child care field."

Visit capslo.org/donation-ccrc or call Paulson at (805) 440-2082 to learn more about donating.

Fast fact

Dignity Health announced on Dec. 28 the completion of its Oppenheimer Family Center for Emergency Medicine. The expansion project was completed in two phases and added 8,600 square feet to the hospital and more than doubled the space of the existing emergency department. With both phases complete, the new emergency services center houses roughly 12,600 square feet of new and fully renovated space. Δ

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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