On November 3, supporters of the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County (LAF) came out for the 10th annual Chowder Fest at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. Crocodile Restaurant & Bar at Lemon Tree Inn was crowned the Chowder Champion based on votes by guests, with Chumash Casino Resort taking 1st Runner Up and Enterprise Fish Company and Savoy Cafe & Deli tying for 2nd Runner Up.
The 350 plus guests enjoyed the warm sunshine, tunes by Spencer the Gardener, and sampling chowders from 11 purveyors. There was also an assortment of other food, beverages from nearly 20 wineries and breweries, and silent auction offerings. The event was a fun and delicious afternoon, and the best part was that it raised more than $65,000 in critical funds for the Santa Barbara Legal Aid Foundation. Other chowder providers were Bluewater Grill, Chase Bar & Grill, Lucky’s, Maravilla, Roost, S.B. Woodfire Catering, and Shoreline Cafe.
Founded in 1959, the nonprofit Legal Aid Foundation provides free legal assistance to qualifying individuals, including low income residents, people with disabilities, seniors, and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, trafficking or other abuse. Attorneys in its Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Lompoc offices provide advice and direct representation.
LAF makes an invaluable difference in the lives of its clients. For example, when Jane Doe told a nonprofit she was fed up with ongoing abuse from her boyfriend, the nonprofit referred her to LAF. When the client had tried to leave in the past, the boyfriend blocked the door, threatened her, and once hit her with a laptop. LAF obtained a three-year restraining order for Doe and her young children and custody of the children, enabling them to finally escape abuse.
Last fiscal year, LAF attorneys served nearly 1,000 clients countywide, including nearly 400 in Santa Barbara. The most common types of clients were tenants facing eviction, survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse, and sexual assault seeking restraining orders, and seniors and low-income victims of financial scams.
These 1,000 clients were the lucky ones, many more potential clients go unserved because LAF’s $1.5 million budget goes only so far. According to Executive Director Jennifer Smith, there is a huge unmet need for civil legal assistance in our county. LAF does triage largely by limiting the scope of its programs. For example, it prioritizes low-income tenants facing eviction, turning away tenants with other disputes with their landlords. Smith emphasized that there is a large unmet need for public benefits advocacy, immigration services, and general family law assistance.
Government grants and contracts comprise nearly two-thirds of LAF’s revenue, making it dependent on private sector grants and donations for more than one-third of its budget. Community support is critical for directly funding LAF’s operations and for qualifying LAF for grants from funders that use community support as an evaluation criterion. Funds are also needed to do necessary maintenance and upgrades to LAF’s historic building at 301 E. Canon Perdido.
LAF also staffs a Legal Resource Center at the Superior Court in each of the cities it operates. An LAF attorney assists self-represented individuals with court forms and processes, but does not provide legal advice. Last year, these centers served nearly 8,000 residents countywide, including about 3,500 in Santa Barbara.
LAF volunteer outreach attorneys advised another 462 individuals at various locations in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Separate walk-in sessions are held for general civil law, family law, immigration law, and consumer debt/bankruptcy law.
For more info about LAF, go to lafsbc.org.
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