Children of frontline workers come together to learn while practicing safe distancing. | Credit: Courtesy

Just under a month ago, a faction of philanthropists, health-care employers, and childcare providers and leaders joined forces to create affordable child care for frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Barbara County.

The never-before-used childcare model took off instantly, so the collaboration is ready to expand services to other essential workers, including those working in grocery stores, farm and agriculture, nursing homes, sanitation, and more. 

“Leaders in philanthropy are driving this community project forward and welcome others to join them in supporting this effort,” said Steve Ortiz, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County. “It must be a priority that children are safe and well cared for during this crisis.”

United Way is a partner and the fiscal agent of the Emergency Child Care Initiative (ECCI). The initiative was created with $500,000 support from Jane and Paul Orfalea with the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation with Lou Buglioli. Now the James S. Bower Foundation, the Monroe Foundation, and Linked Foundation have also joined as partners for the initiative. 

Rather than scatter free childcare sites throughout the area, the trailblazing initiative puts essential workers’ children in childcare sites based on their parents’ employers so they don’t risk infecting children with parents working for a different employer. 

To date, up to 246 affordable spaces at four different childcare centers have been established, with additional capacity available for expansion. ECCI is serving most major health-care providers throughout the county, including Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, Lompoc Valley Medical, and the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast.

Now that health-care workers are covered, other essential employees are able to use ECCI, too. If you are an employer of essential workers or if you are a childcare provider who wants to help, please contact Eileen Monahan at If you would like to contribute toward the Emergency Child Care Fund, please contact Steve Ortiz at

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff continues to cover every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Support the important work we do by making a direct contribution.


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