Bodega Bay’s Waves of Compassion Foundation aims to feed their village

On the first and third Wednesdays of every month, volunteers for the organization dole out free food from the parking lot of the Bodega Bay Grange Hall.|

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Sonoma County has 76 miles of coastline, so it stands to reason that coastal communities such as Bodega Bay see quite a lot of waves every month.

None of this crashing surf is as powerful as the Waves of Compassion Foundation.

The nonprofit is led by mostly volunteers and was established just weeks before the Tubbs Fire in 2017, and has helped literally thousands of families from the Sonoma Coast since then. Today, the group runs a twice a month food pantry in Bodega Bay, as well as two other programs designed to provide direct assistance to those in need.

“Our goal is to lift up everyone in our community,” said Waves of Compassion Foundation President Carolyn Connors. “Every day, with every one of our efforts, we’re moving closer to that reality, and that brings tears to my eyes.”

Last year the nonprofit received $44,400 in grants to help with their mission. The nonprofit relies on fundraisers, donations and grants to operate and help the community. All funds collected go directly to support local charitable projects.

Simple act of kindness

Like many waves in the ocean, the Waves of Compassion Foundation started small.

In the first half of 2017, Connors was working as a librarian and a paraprofessional at Bodega Bay Elementary School, when she heard a parent needed help getting food every week. The closest food pantry was 30 minutes away and about 20 miles south in Tomales Bay. Connors volunteered to drive the mother, her toddler and her baby down and back every week.

Word spread, and soon Connors was transporting food for several other parents and families in need.

“It got so I couldn’t take people and food in my car,” Connors said. “I started thinking, ‘I know there are a lot of other people in our town who need this.’ We need to help them all.”

Connors and others gathered the necessary paperwork and applied to become a nonprofit. The official stamp of approval came in late September 2017. Two weeks later, the Tubbs Fire sent Sonoma County residents fleeing to the Sonoma Coast. The Waves of Compassion Foundation kicked into crisis response. Connors and vice president Patty Ginochio worked with other volunteers to turn Bodega Bay Grange Hall into an emergency shelter. They worked with volunteers and other nonprofits to feed and care for those who were fleeing the fire.

By early 2018, everybody on the Sonoma Coast knew about the foundation and what the organization stood for.

“In many ways the fires put us on the map,” said Ginochio, who’s family owns Ginochio's Kitchen and works with the nonprofit to give out free meals.

Feeding the community

Since then, the Waves of Compassion Foundation has amplified and extended its programming significantly.

Currently, the largest initiative is their food pantry. On the first and third Wednesdays of every month, volunteers for the organization dole out free food from the parking lot of the Bodega Bay Grange Hall from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The goal: To address food insecurity among those who call the Sonoma Coast home.

According to Connors, the pantry has grown exponentially in the last few years. When it started, she said, the program served about 40 families. Today, however, it regularly serves 140. Around 20 of the 50 nonprofit volunteers help out at each food pantry event.

Put differently, the nonprofit gives away about 5,000 pounds of food at every pantry. And the nonprofit team purchases most food from the Redwood Empire Food Bank and distributes it at no cost. Some of the local businesses that have also helped the organization’s pantry events over the years include Raymond’s Bakery, Pelican Plaza Grocery & Deli, Bill's Farm Basket, Grocery Outlet of Santa Rosa and the Tides Restaurant.

On a recent Wednesday, cars lined up along Bodega Avenue as residents waited for bags of delicious meat, ripe produce, and more. Volunteers “tagged” each car with a tiny Post-it note that revealed how many people were in each family. Food items change every week, so recipients rarely get the same stuff twice. Families of four get a standard amount of food; all families larger than four members received a small bag of “bonus meat.”

“This food really makes a difference in these people’s lives,” Connors said.

Allison Goodwin, director of programs for the Redwood Empire Food Bank, she said that working with the Waves of Compassion Foundation enables her organization to serve a community it previously did not serve. She added that Redwood Empire Food Bank operates a food pantry out of the same location on the second, fourth, and (occasionally) fifth Wednesdays of every month, too.

“The population of people we serve can be easily overlooked because they don’t want to ask for help in the first place,” said Goodwin, who is based in Santa Rosa. “That makes our work even more important.”

Helping out local fishermen

In addition to the food pantry, the Waves of Compassion Foundation operates two other major programs in and around Bodega Bay.

One, dubbed “Feed it Forward,” provides free cooked meals to those in need. The program is simple — donors pay for a particular meal, which then becomes available for someone to use when they need it. The program started at Ginochio’s Kitchen and now comprises four dining establishments in all.

“Feed it Forward is just another way we’re looking out for our own,” Ginochio said. “We are a true village that cares about each other.”

The other program is more specifically targeted toward fishermen. The “Fisherman’s Fund” is a concerted effort to help this vulnerable population of laborers through what has become a tragically trying time in their industry.

This program was unveiled about a month ago. With financial support from Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival, Bodega Bay Fire Foundation, and the community at large, the Waves of Compassion Foundation leaders went ahead and purchased commercial grade gloves, pants/bibs, jackets, socks, hats and boots for 53 local fishermen. In addition, the team recharged and recertified their fire extinguishers at the docks and assisted with the enormous costs of their emergency life rafts.

Local fisherman Richard Ogg, captain of the fishing vessel Karen Jeanne, said the philanthropy from the Waves of Compassion Foundation enabled many of his colleagues to survive a difficult start to the fishing season.

“There are several groups that went out of their way to help the local fishermen, (and) Waves of Compassion did some amazing things to be sure the local men and women had rain gear and protective equipment to start our season,” he wrote in a recent email. “Without them, many fishermen would have had to operate with inferior equipment or gone without.”

Waves of Compassion also gives diapers to families with babies in need and offers multiple English as a Second Language classes every week.

Continuing to serve, grow

All the main Waves of Compassion Foundation programs are working well right now, and Connors said there are no plans to alter these initiatives in any way.

At the same time, Connors noted that the organization is always looking for more funding.

The organization has secured several different grants for 2024, and the nearly all-volunteer staff will begin heading out into the community for direct fundraising later in the year. Vice President Lira Filippini writes grant applications for the nonprofit, and she has been working hard to apply for new ones.

Filippini said what she loves about Waves of Compassion Foundation is that the organization’s good work brings together several very different facets of community.

“Often times we’re too busy making sure we can survive out here,” she said. “That’s precisely why we have to look out for each other and stand up for each other when the going gets tough.”

Ginochio agreed.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in these first seven years,” she said. “We still have a lot more work to do.”

Editor’s note: Waves of Compassion Foundation has updated their focus of their food pantry to those who live or work in Bodega Bay.

Sonoma Gives

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