Montecito’s Bucket Brigade Goes Shopping

By Nick Schou   |   March 26, 2020
Abe Powell is Montecito Strong

Not even an epic coronavirus pandemic can slow down Abe Powell.

The founder of the Bucket Brigade who became a local hero in Montecito after the 1/9 debris flow, when he led local residents in an impromptu effort to dig out their neighbors’ homes, is now taking a front-line role in educating the public about the coronavirus. In an interview, Powell says his group is busy filming webinars and otherwise urging residents to help each other through the crisis. “We knew that this type of pandemic was on the radar,” Powell says. “Not since the Spanish Flu have we seen anything like this.”

In the wake of the debris flow, Powell and the Bucket Brigade focused on outreach to all local groups and organizations to help them prepare for the next disaster, which is now upon us. “We have identified more than 275 homeowner associations throughout Santa Barbara County, and have been reaching out to them to find out how organized they are and what kind of resilience programs they have,” Powell says. “Some of them are very organized, especially when they are located in fire-prone areas, and then there are groups that are barely organized, with like, just one lady keeping super-informed.”

Powell (left) and other members of the Bucket Brigade before the social-distancing era

According to Powell, their message to the homeowner groups is to pay less attention to what color fence their neighbors might paint, and more attention to how to people can help their neighbors during an emergency. “One of the most important things when you have a quarantined population is that people get cut off and there is no plan for dealing with that,” Powell explains. “In my neighborhood, I know a man who has a caretaker, and without the caretaker, he’ll die. We have to outreach with these people to see if they have a list of medications that need to be filled, or if they have someone who can come help them get food.”

When I spoke to Powell, he was putting finishing touches on a video instructing people on how to shop for neighbors. He’s also managing a wave of volunteer requests. “There are people scrambling to do things that are outside their skill set,” he says. “There are non-professional groups trying to prepare food and deliver it. That’s a really bad idea if you are not trained to do that. But we’ve got a list of 3,000 people who we consider elite volunteers, people who are low-risk and willing to volunteer for things that have been vetted.”

Because the coronavirus disproportionately affects senior citizens, the pandemic poses an especially difficult challenge for Montecito’s aging population. “There is an official order for high-risk people not to go outside,” Powell continues. “So shopping for them is now officially very important.” If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, Powell says, it’s that Montecito, having already survived another disaster, is particularly well-poised to remain resilient and make it through this one. “Fortunately, we saw this coming,” he says. “But now it’s here.”


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