The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of life and significantly impacted the national and local economy. This past year saw business and school closures and unemployment in industries which employ a significant number of lower-wage workers. In response, community leaders and partners shifted and, in some cases, increased their efforts to provide critical services to our neighbors in need. They also offered guidance and support for small businesses to help sustain them through the unprecedented economic recession. The pandemic brought about loss and change, but through the efforts of partners, also led to improvements as residents and businesses began to adapt to these new circumstances.





Food Insecurity


The San Diego Hunger Coalition estimates the hunger relief sector increased the total amount of food assistance by 73% from January 2020 to November 2020 to meet the need for food assistance caused by the pandemic. Seemingly overnight, partners in the community responded to the urgent nutritional needs of San Diego County low-income residents, seniors, and others impacted by COVID-19. Jacob & Cushman San Diego Food Bank distributed 57.4 million pounds of food (48 million meals), an increase of nearly 20 million pounds, and Feeding San Diego provided more than 31.2 million meals in partnership with more than 320 local food distribution partners.

The County of San Diego created the Great Plates Delivered and Dinner Delivered programs which ran from May 2020 to July 2021 serving 7,797 recipients with well over 4,500,000 meals from 41 local restaurants and caterers. While the main purpose of this program was to provide meals to vulnerable older adults, this program also served as an economic driver to the restaurant industry during a period of time where they were closed to the public due to COVID-19.  

Workers assemble meal delivery bags for Great Plates Delivered Program



The following partners were part of the 320 local food distribution organizations that assisted Feeding San Diego and the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank with the distribution of groceries and meals to millions of San Diegans.

Nearly 1.5 million meals delivered to isolated older adults & 666,500 meals provided through no-touch drive-thru food distribution by Jewish Family Services.


Almost 5 million healthy meals distributed to children and families by the Chicano Federation of San Diego County.

Over 16.5 million pounds of high-quality food was rescued by Feeding San Diego before it went to waste from hundreds of locations across California.


16 homebound seniors experiencing loneliness and social isolation received meals from Senior Companionship Project.

561,928 meals served to 4,252 Meals on Wheels clients where 47% lived alone, 36% were over the age of 85, and 40 were over the age of 100, as well as served 390 cats and dogs.


Heaven's Windows increased number of meals served from 4,500 per month to more than 8,000.

Kitchens for Good scaled hunger relief meal production from 2,000 meals/week to over 15,000 meals/week and rallied over 1,800 volunteers to assist with meal packaging.


1.7 million meals were served to 5,467 clients of Serving Seniors in response to the increased calls from seniors seeking assistance.

Over 3,200 food boxes were delivered to San Diego households by FACT during April 2020-March 2021 in collaboration with the County of San Diego, 211, and SANDAD.


67,600 meals distributed by Interfaith Community Services, in addition to their Super Pantry grocery assistance program.






Recovery Assistance


Partner organizations joined together to provide recovery assistance to be there for those that needed additional support.

The County of San Diego approved $650 million in American Rescue Plan funding to spur economic recovery post-pandemic. Through several virtual community meetings and forums, participant feedback was used to prioritize funding that will go toward rental assistance, small business stimulus, homeless services, food assistance, senior and youth services, child-care subsidies, and mental health services. 

The United Way of San Diego partnered with seven local community organizations, including MAAC, North County Lifeline, San Diego LGBT Community Center, and South Bay Community Services, among others, to launch the San Diego Worker Assistance Initiative. Through the initiative, partners received more than 8,400 applications and distributed $667,830 to assist low wage workers with utility and rent/mortgage payments. 


San Diego COVID-19 Response Fund Impact Report

Through the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund:

Home Start connected more than 300 families to CalFresh for food assistance, provided rental assistance to 45 households, helped 82 individuals find shelter, and delivered 1,000 weekly meals.

San Diego Oasis purchased and distributed more than 300 computer tablets to isolated seniors throughout the region to provide online connectivity, telehealth access, and more.

North County LGBTQ Resource Center received a $75,000 Grant to help members of LGBTQ communities struggling to pay for basic necessities such as food, rent, or utility bills.

SBCS provided 450 computers, laptops, and tablets to support distance learning and tele-therapy services for students in the nonprofit’s shelter, transitional housing, and educational and mental health programs.





Small Business Support


Many business-focused partners were able to provide recovery assistance and guidance to the small business community.

With 90% of businesses hit with unanticipated revenue losses in 2020, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, developed the Back in Business Report through a collaboration between the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the University of San Diego and others. The report provides guidance on the likely impact of COVID-19 on the regional economy and recommendations on what businesses should prioritize to recover and thrive in the wake of the pandemic. Guidance was also provided to small businesses and non-profits by Rise San Diego who offered free technical assistance through their Ready, Set, Go! Learning Labs to help them prepare to apply for government contracts and through their Creating Compassionate Workspaces in Response to COVID-19 learning program focused on better supporting staff in times of crises.


To assist financially, International Rescue Committee helped secure $1.4 million in grant and loan funds for 73 small businesses, provided 689 small businesses with application support and/or business counseling services, and distributed Personal Protective Equipment to 200 small businesses. The City of San Diego also launched a grant program to provide $12 million to small businesses and nonprofits hardest hit by the pandemic.

Business Chambers, including the East County Chamber of Commerce, Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, National City Chamber of Commerce, Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, and San Marcos Chamber of Commerce worked together with their Cities and the County to provide COVID-19 business-focused resources to their communities and are continually working to develop projects, programs, and policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity to help keep small businesses open, such as buy local programs.

International Rescue Committee COVID-19 Impact Dashboard




Innovative Approaches


During economic recovery, the economy undergoes a process of adaptation and adjustment to new conditions, including the factors that triggered the recession in the first place. Partners collaborated to find solutions to new issues that residents were facing such as expanding business functions, improving transportation, and transitioning to telehealth. 

Circulate San Diego helped pilot Curbside San Diego, a program designed to promote economic recovery for downtown San Diego businesses to provide design and installation services for expanding business functions (outdoor dining, queuing, curbside pick-up, retail, etc.) into the public right-of-way to adhere to local COVID-19 protocols. Following the pilot, the City of San Diego launched the Spaces as Places program, to transition temporary pandemic-response outdoor spaces to permanent spaces that safely bring people together to dine, play and gather.


During the pandemic, a need arose to transport homeless individuals to and from shelters, hotels and other locations for quarantining and testing and to transport people for their essential needs and their essential jobs. FACT (Facilitating Access to Coordinated Transportation, Inc.) responded by transporting over 300 homeless and providing over 32,000 free trips on RideFACT.

North County Lifeline sprung into action when hundreds of its clients were suddenly unable to buy groceries, pay rent or obtain housing. Not only did the nonprofit provide immediate assistance to support basic needs, but it pivoted seamlessly to telehealth services for hundreds of individuals.





Employment and Opportunity


Ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic were clear here in San Diego County, as SANDAG estimates that nearly 300,000 San Diego County residents lost jobs due to COVID-19, with the South Bay and central San Diego the most deeply affected. However, according to San Diego Workforce Partnership, San Diego’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.8% in June 2021 compared to 13.7% a year prior, indicating a move toward recovery. As businesses cautiously reopen and the economy continues to improve, organizations across the region have rallied to train and serve hundreds of individuals seeking work and job training.

Us4Warriors’s Work4Warriors Program and Peer-to-Peer Support program helped veterans navigate unemployment insurance and provided resume support and referrals to additional resources. Urban Corps of San Diego County graduated 149 Corps members from their 2020 program and through a partnership with ProduceGood, they harvested over 220,800 servings of produce for food insecure San Diegans. Just in Time Foster Youth served 826 individuals with items such as emergency basic needs and college/career training, with 129 first-time participants. Second Chance helped Reentry Court participants log 5,758 hours of training through structured curriculum, group sessions and individual counseling. Ninety-eight individuals graduated from Job Readiness Training and 81 were placed in employment – a 83% placement rate. San Diego Workforce Partnership expanded three workforce training programs, including TechHire, Opportunity Youth Internships and City Mentorships, designed to help San Diegans from underrepresented communities secure quality jobs and launch meaningful careers in the region’s public and private sectors.

“It was a difficult and challenging time for me, dealing with my involuntary medical separation from the Navy and then facing unemployment as a single mother and primary provider for my family during a pandemic was terrifying. But with the assistance and support from the Us4Warriors Foundation, my family made it through the first year of the pandemic and we are now in a good place.”

- Us4Warriors customer




Looking Ahead


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of individuals, businesses, and communities across San Diego County. Organizations collaborated to find solutions to new issues that residents were facing and expanded business services in response. Recovery is on the horizon and the lessons learned from the pandemic will benefit all San Diegans moving forward. As businesses cautiously reopen and the economy continues to improve, Partners must continue to create equitable and inclusive access to economic opportunities, job training, recovery assistance, and financial guidance for both individuals and small businesses.