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Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller - August 2017

One of the first things a newcomer notices on moving to Sonoma, as I did three years ago, is the large number of pricey fundraisers that are held to support our many nonprofits. Instead of partying at home, our well-to-do throw a party for a worthy cause while wining and dining elegantly among friends.

Turns out that these events actually raise less than one percent of the typical nonprofit’s budget, according to a report,“Hidden in Plain Sight,” put out this spring by the Sonoma Valley Fund, an affiliate of the Community Foundation Sonoma County

And that’s only one of many surprises the study revealed, based on updated data from a detailed report done in 2012 by the Economic Development Board.

All those fundraising parties not only do not raise much money for nonprofits, they are a lot of work and are contributing to the phenomenon of “donor fatigue” observed by the report’s authors.

Nancy Ramsey is one of the report’s three authors.

They were all volunteers, by the way, and they worked hard, collecting data and putting it into their database. “When we reached one thousand hours, we stopped,” Ramsey told me in our phone conversation last week.

The goal of SVF is “to increase grant making and grow philanthropy in the Valley,” and if you thought, as I did, that we enjoy an immense amount of philanthropy for such a small town and its environs, you may be surprised to know that of about 100 nonprofits most are only just scraping by with about three months of operating cash on hand, and no cash or savings at the end of the year.

But the level of contributions is markedly high, with $113 million in total contributions (which includes the Hospital and Hanna Boys Center, both high recipients), including $34 million raised from individuals, an “incredibly impressive” amount, said Ramsey, which does not include the value of the immense number of volunteer hours contributed.

Meanwhile, our Valley is changing.

Nearly one quarter of the population is now over 65.

The Valley is increasingly diverse. The number of non citizens has increased by 56 percent. Fifty-seven percent of the population of our schools is now Hispanic, an increase of ten percent.

“Poverty is growing in spite of the improved economy and has increased 70 percent. Almost 20 percent of families with children are at or beyond the poverty level.”

The national poverty level is $24,000, but here it is $44,000; $52,000 for a family of four. “That means that even two parents working at minimum wage jobs cannot get out of poverty.”

Income disparity is growing, with 31 percent earning over $100,000 and the same number earning $35,000 or less.

Nineteen percent of Hispanics are living in poverty while only 4 percent of whites.

The pain of low incomes is exacerbated by the price of housing; almost 50 percent pay more than 35 percent of their income on rent.

The community, once small and relatively homogeneous, now has many divisions, not only by income, age, and ethnicity, but whether full-time residents of weekenders, those who embrace the way it was vs. those who want changes, and perspectives on tourism.

“About 35 percent of schoolchildren are not English proficient, and up to 80 percent of children coming into elementary school are not.

“Without English and without papers it is very difficult to get a decent job,” said Ramsey. Only 50 percent of Hispanic youth graduate from high school.

Happily, Youth Development and Education received one-third of all giving and healthcare received about a quarter, but housing and access to food received only one eighth.

The report summary concludes that, “the way forward…requires community leaders to collaborate more so that solutions can be connected for greater impact.”

It’s a lot to deal with, without considering the fundamental changes we need to make to slow – or adapt to – the progress of climate change.

And what about the role of wine and tourism in creating the kind of society we want?

Sonoman Lana Pereyaslavska wrote to ask why raw milk is unavailable in Sonoma’s stores. It’s sold in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, but that’s “a long way to go for milk.”

In her native Ukraine, raw milk is sold at the farmers markets. I asked her how they keep the milk cold. She writes, “I don’t remember seeing any coolers there, even in summer. But the markets started very early, about 6 a.m. in summer, and they were selling fresh raw milk from that same morning - or the night before. By about 8 a.m. pretty much all dairy was sold, so we had to be there very early.”

The milk is lightly boiled before drinking. It is considered more digestible than pasteurized milk.

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