Unsung Heroes of Borrego Pandemic Response Launch Spring Fundraiser

By Michael Sadler – Originally Published on The ‘Borrego Sun’ Website

It was a lot of money raised by the Borrego Ministers Association (BMA) from hundreds of very generous
Borregan donors in Borrego during 2020 – 21 to meet the challenges of a raging COVID-19 pandemic. However, the approximately $280,000 raised in those two years by individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations has all now been indirectly distributed to individuals and families in need; the BMA does not hand out cash, but rather they pay a bill that recipients cannot afford.

Prior to the pandemic, BMA’s annual budget ran between $2,700 to $4,000 since its founding in 2012, but this year BMA has written more checks in a month than the first three years of their existence, and their current balance as of Feb. 8 was $11.8K, with payments assisting recipients amounting to $10.4K. That’s cutting it pretty close.

With the tourist season ending soon and seasonal workers in restaurants and some businesses facing
layoffs but still having to meet monthly living expenses, the financial needs of many individuals
and families continue even as the pandemic shows all the signs of winding down. BMA needs more
funds to continue giving a helping hand to deserving individuals and families this year who live
paycheck to paycheck, so they set a fundraising goal of $100,000 to continue their good work for
the community.

It all comes down to the ability of BMA to keep paying rent, utilities, or coordinate food coupons in tandem with The Center Market and The Desert Pantry. The BMA and a virtual army of volunteers have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of many, such as: distributing local grocers’ coupons for food and help with rent shortfalls; or a family living in their car waiting for their monthly SSI check receiving a hotel room and gas card; or fixing a broken stove, refrigerator, swamp cooler for the coming summer months, and even a new water heater; partial payment for water and SDG&E; bills to avoid service cut-offs; assistance with applying for disability benefits for injured workers; counseling and funeral expenses for a grieving family; rides to medical appointments now provided by the Senior Center; provide food coupons or formula and supplies for a new baby; and even help for tent campers stranded on their way to San Diego for work. These outlays are just the tip of the iceberg of expenditures by BMA over the past two years.

The BMA is a 501c3 non-profit operating under the Methodist Church, and it’s a Borrego-based
fellowship of ministries – Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, and the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Christian Center does not participate). The BMA chairman is
Reverend Michael Plekon, and other individuals on the Board are familiar names, such as Martha
Deichler from the Resource Center for counseling and translation services, BMA treasurer Mike
Himmerich, Secretary Geoff Barton, Diane Johnson and Tammy Baker from the Borrego Water
District, Shirley Vailpando living in Santiago Estates, and grief counselor Dr. Pamela McEvoy, also
with the Resource Center. These are just some of the unsung heroes of Borrego’s response to the
COVID pandemic, and they now seek additional community financial support to continue their
efforts to assist in getting through the COVID pandemic as we enter a time of post-season job
losses and hot summer months ahead.

Martha Deichler, Diane Johnson, and Tammy Baker have worked to vastly improve what could
have been a dire situation at Santiago Estates, the mobile home park on DiGiorgio Road. In early
2021, San Diego County, under State mandate, did a 20-year inspection of Santiago, and 75 homes
received serious safety citations. Residents were required to make the needed repairs or face fines
and possible eviction, and they were given a very short time-table to do so. Many out-of-work
families were panic-stricken because of the language barrier in communicating the nature, extent,
and possible negative outcomes of not fixing the violations.

Assisted by the bilingual skills of Deichler, who also knows many of the families on a personal
level, BMA stepped into the midst of a serious issue confronting residents , forming a bi-lingual
team to meet with the 75 cited homeowners and fix the violations. Community volunteers were
recruited to do the labor, and the BMA purchased the materials needed, as shown in photos.
The BMA team also took charge of communication with the County inspector’s office to gain
extensions. Deadlines were coming up in August, when it was too dangerously hot to turn off
power to make repairs. After months of weekly monitoring, plus 2nd and 3rd violation notices, no
one has been evicted, yet.

After the third notices were issued, it finally fell to the owners of Santiago Estates to fix the
violations, and they stepped up with a solution for those with, for example, electrical violations:
Replace the electrical pedestals holding two electrical outlets with a single outlet. However, it was
quickly discovered that a single outlet did not allow for plugging in an air conditioner, and summer
was upon them and promising very high temperatures. That fix was scrapped by the inspectors for
public health reasons, and the State approved, showing that bureaucrats in both San Diego and
Sacramento really did understand basic human needs.

In the March 17 issue of the Borrego Sun, we’ll take a closer look at the people who have sacrificed
their time and energy during this difficult period, plus their personal reflections on the experience.
Also included will be Borregans impacted and how they’ve dealt with serious issues while awaiting
COVID stimulus payments and community response.

And speaking of money, Borregans who see a continuing need for BMA to assist individuals and
families in stressful times expected after the current season can make donations (check, PayPal, or
debit/credit card) via the BMA website: http://www.borregoministersassociation.org.
And if you’re a snowbird leaving town for northern climes before the fundraising effort officially
gets under way, please consider a donation before you pack up and depart Borrego.