AllTogetherLA

Founded at the start of the pandemic in an effort to provide Westside seniors with deliveries of medication, food and other essential supplies, the organization Santa Monica Helpers has grown immensely in the last two months and is preparing to soon service all of Los Angeles County.

Beginning with only herself and a call to other “techies” who live in and around Santa Monica to step up and help others in the community where they reside, founder Lorena Camarena said this week she would’ve laughed nine weeks ago if somebody were to tell her that her organization would soon dispatch hundreds of volunteers to seniors in Santa Monica and communities beyond.

Many things have changed since Camarena began assisting others back in mid-March, including the nonprofit’s branding.

“We started thinking about how we could really make this a legitimate nonprofit,” Camarena said, sharing how she received pro bono legal support from a firm in New York to achieve 501(c)(3) status.

“And as we started getting to know a lot of the seniors who we were helping, we realized that safety is their number one concern. So, we implemented background checks for all of our volunteers,” and, of course, still provide them with the masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to protect themselves and the seniors, Camarena said.

Typically, a volunteer is paired to one or two seniors in an area where they live, “and they’re paired up for the foreseeable future — at least through the crisis for COVID,” Camarena said. “But I’ve come to find there’s a lot of seniors who have needed help for a really long time, but they didn’t really know where to find the help. So, we’ve tried to take that into consideration and pair these people with neighbors who may live on the same block; and it’s cool because they likely never would’ve met otherwise but this has given them an opportunity to not just deliver groceries but to really get to know each other as people.”

Camarena added the connection has been beneficial for all parties involved.

“It’s really become a community within a community,” she said, detailing how seniors have crafted presents and notes to share their gratitude and other organizations have reached out to discuss how they can help each other help others.

“We’ve been talking to a number of organizations, sharing best practices and we found we all experienced a lot of the same challenges,” Camarena said. “I ended up walking one of the groups through our process and the way we onboard volunteers and match them with seniors.”

She said it now feels like it makes sense to merge since they all have the same mission and aim to help the senior population. So, the former Santa Monica Helpers are now known as AllTogetherLA volunteers as of Wednesday, but they will still be seen out in the community same as before.

“Only now, we will be serving all of Los Angeles County,” Camarena said, which is a task she’s very excited to begin. “As soon as we started considering expanding beyond the Westside to all of L.A. County, I thought of the need for help in our communities of color, because many of them are being disproportionately affected by everything that’s happening.”

Camarena acknowledged that many of the communities AllTogetherLA will be serving house seniors who might not have had the ability to stay at home in recent weeks, “so I think we’ll start to see a little more seniors who are in need this week once we start getting out there to help,” she said.

“Now that we feel like the west side of that was pretty taken care of, and there’s a lot of organizations here to help, we’re excited to get out into these areas that have a lot more low income seniors who are in need,” Camarena said.

“I was recently thinking about why I started this in the first place; it started because I wanted to help my neighbor — literally — because I ran into her in the hall and wanted to help,” Camarena said. “That one interaction made me question how many other people out there were like her, so I created the helpers to go and find out who in the community of Santa Monica needed help. And that quickly became us helping all of the Westside to now L.A. County. So, it’s amazing to be able to see the growth of all of our volunteers coming together, all of our organizations coming together. There’s no ego in the work. It’s really all about what we can do to connect people who need help with people that are out there looking to help.”

Residents who are looking to volunteer or find assistance from AllTogetherLA can do so by contacting the hotline 323-310-0411 or visiting the website alltogether.la/.

brennon@smdp.com

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