Homeless tents in downtown San Diego
Homeless tents on set up on 16th Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

The Lucky Duck Foundation announced a countywide effort Wednesday to distribute food and water to San Diego’s unsheltered homeless population.

Because many communities and congregate meal services have ceased due to COVID-19, many individuals experiencing homelessness are struggling to secure food and water. The initiative represents a strategic collaboration made possible by a donation from local philanthropist Gwendolyn Sontheim and the Aqualia International Foundation, in partnership with the Lucky Duck Foundation, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and multiple homeless outreach teams. Other founding supporters include SDG&E, the Danna Foundation, Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation, Bank of America, and an anonymous donor. 

“This is a life or death situation for the unsheltered homeless. People experiencing homelessness are especially isolated and vulnerable now, where many do not have access to the most basic human needs,” said Dan Shea, LDF board member, Tuesday Group co-founder, and partner of Paradigm Investment Group. “The idea and inspiration for this program came from Gwendolyn Sontheim. She recognized the urgent need, provided meaningful financial support, and asked The Lucky Duck Foundation to assist with the design and lead the program. Gwendolyn’s vision, leadership, and generous donation is the reason this program is happening.” 

“On any given day, there are almost 4,000 people unsheltered and trying to survive on the streets of San Diego County, without the most basic physiological needs being met. By providing food, water, and basic services, this collaboration will save lives,” said Gwendolyn Sontheim, philanthropist. “I am very proud that our community is coming together to make a very real difference in the lives of those who are suffering,” 

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to provide food and water to as many of the 4,000 unsheltered population as possible for the foreseeable future.  Sontheim donated $500,000 to begin the program and another like-amount has been raised with meaningful donations from LDF, SDG&E, the Danna Foundation, Walter J. and Betty C. Zable Foundation, Bank of America, and an anonymous donor. The first food and water distribution began on May 27.

Food for the program is being prepared and packed by the Sheriff’s Food Services Division of the Detention Services Bureau at their East Mesa Reentry Facility, which currently prepares approximately 15,000 meals per day for its inmates. After meals are prepared and packed with water, they are delivered to homeless outreach workers. Using heat maps and data provided by the RTFH, outreach workers deliver the food and water to unsheltered persons. 

“We have one of the largest unsheltered populations in the nation, and in this time of the pandemic, our unsheltered population is not able to have their basic needs met.” Said, Tamera Kohler, chief executive officer, Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “Having our outreach teams being able to provide food and water right now, along with support services to ultimately help get people sheltered, is life-saving.” 

“This initiative is important and it will indeed save lives. But our community must have an elevated sense of urgency, and bold leadership to do more and move faster on behalf of our large homeless population,” said Stephanie Kilkenney, president and co-founder of Lucky Duck Foundation. “While we have made some progress and reduced the homeless population year-over-year for the last three years, Covid19 and the very difficult economy will put much more pressure on our already underfunded homeless support infrastructure. Homelessness should be the number one issue priority for us.” 

“We urge individuals, businesses, foundations, and philanthropists to join us in support of this best-in-class initiative,” said Peter Seidler, LDF Board Member, Tuesday Group co-founder, general partner, San Diego Padres. “The people and organizations who call San Diego home can make a life-saving contribution to help those who are most at risk during this crisis.” 

“Because of the pandemic and economic crisis, the normal structure for feeding the unsheltered homeless has been disrupted. It is imperative that we focus on feeding anyone experiencing hunger in the region and this initiative is an important addition to the effort,” said Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell, VP external Affairs, SDG&E. 

Numerous social service provider outreach teams are participating in the food and water distribution including the Alpha Project, McAlister, HomeStart, Crisis House, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Vista Hill, and Veteran’s Villages of San Diego. Service providers interested in participating should contact the Lucky Duck Foundation at marketing@luckyduckfoundation.org. 

To donate in support of this initiative, please click here.