Empty grocery shelves and sold out essentials have provided a seemingly endless source for memes, advertising schemes and Saturday Night Live pandemic parodies.  The lack of available toilet paper, masks and hand sanitizer created some precarious situations as families and essential businesses tried to keep their loved ones and customers safe from an invisible COVID-19 enemy. However, the Rotary Club of Morro Bay, recognized a hole that needed filling and a chance to support Morro Bay’s at-risk business community. 

President Melissa Davis, 2019-20, hit a major roadblock and realized she needed help. Not only was she learning the protocols for managing a newly secured general manager position at a popular local eatery, Pizza Port of Morro Bay, homeschooling her daughter Stella was added to her list of daily duties.

President-Elect Jeff Jones and President Elect Nominee Tim Olivas stepped up. As former Morro Bay fire and police chiefs, the new leadership duo understood the value and need for hand sanitizing to protect both employees and customers of Morro Bay’s essential businesses. Acting President Jones researched potential projects while Olivas built a foundation to conduct Zoom board and general meetings to activate approvals and rally volunteers for potential projects during the pandemic. By mid-March a first Zoom board meeting was conducted and a unanimous commitment was made to work with city leadership and the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce efforts to support a struggling tourism-based business community. 

A hand-sanitizer project was the first to be funded. The goal intended to gift all Morro Bay businesses with a bottle of the hand sanitizer along with a thank you letter for supporting the Rotary Club of Morro Bay during its 75-year tenure in the community. 

In his letter to Morro Bay businesses, Acting-President Jeff Jones wrote, “We were pleased to source the sanitizer locally, thus, helping two more small businesses…This decorative 8-oz bottle of “Be Well Hand Sanitizer” was produced by the Fable Soap Company of Los Osos working with the Bethel Rd Distillery of Templeton.” 

Past-President Mike Pond picked up the first 144 bottles to deliver to Past-President Judy Salamacha, who was tagged as distribution manager for the project. “My husband Bob and I delivered the first twelve bottles on Sunday in early April to test out the program. Businesses were so grateful to receive the sanitizer and surprised it was a gift. Our Chamber of Commerce CEO, Erica Crawford, remarked our club ‘really went high end’ with the product.” 

To date, Acting-President Jeff Jones, Tim Olivas, John Weiss, Jude Long, Elsie Casida, Mike Pond, Nancy Ford-Retchless, and Lorraine Sterkel joined the project delivery team.

 “We all felt good walking into a business that was trying to make ends meet to offer them a gift they needed instead of asking for a donation for another fund raiser. Jeff was so right. It was time for our Rotary club to give back,” Salamacha said. 

To date over 250 bottles have gone out to Morro Bay businesses and as President Jones told members at a recent Zoom general meeting, “We aren’t finished with this project yet!” He also thanked Fable Soap Company for generously donating an additional 24 bottles of sanitizer and 50 bottles of hand lotion for Rotary to share with businesses.

In addition to the hand sanitizer project during COVID-19, the Rotary Club of Morro Bay supported the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to advocate for the business community by committing to a higher level of membership. While the organization continues to be invested in supporting international programs, members currently feel now is the time to support needs at home. For example, members have committed individually to support local restaurants during especially during Zoom Socials on Take-Out-Tuesdays and Past-President Dan Costley accepted the call from member MB Fire Chief Steve Knuckles to manage volunteers for the CARES program by delivering prescriptions to the homebound. Several members have also participated in the county blood drive. 

Like many of the non-profits and charities across the state, the Morro Bay Rotary Club has had to forgo holding their revenue generating events, such as the popular crab feed and annual golf tournament as well as participating in larger events like the Morro Bay Car Show where the club is a key beneficiary. Although the club’s financial outlook is still unknown, the board decided it would use community giving resources available to give back to the business community that had helped them over the years.