Jen Ezpeleta

BeachLife brings another kind of music to the holidays

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Redondo Union High School Principal Jens Brand accepts holiday contributions from BeachLife communications director Tammy Saunt. Photos by JP Cordero

by Richard Foss

Last May’s much-anticipated, second annual BeachLife Festival was canceled, but the organization behind it has been busy with a project more relevant to our times. Instead of entertaining residents, they’re helping them with a program that gets gift cards to people who can use some help. It’s called Operation Smiles, and it’s a lifeline for local businesses as well as their patrons.

As BeachLife founder Allen Sanford puts it, “We could have, as a business, gone to sleep until the next festival, or we could do what we’ve decided to do and be part of the community. We have been building outdoor dining spaces for restaurants, and now we’re buying gift cards and distributing them. They’re at restaurants and retailers that are small businesses in this community, including flower shops, toy stores, and clothing stores.”

Anyone might see how widespread unemployment might make a gift card for clothes and food useful, but why a flower shop? Allen says that they’ve already had a grateful recipient.

“Everybody has different needs. One person reached out and said, ‘My grandmother could use a smile, she lost her husband, she’s super depressed. We have the money to eat, but I can’t really afford to buy her Christmas presents.’ I suggested the flowers and she really appreciated them. Another family needed food and clothing. They have kids so we sent them gift certificates to Bella Beach Kids in Manhattan and Sol Baby in Hermosa. It’s almost like matchmaking. It’s more work, but it keeps the money in the community.”

Asked whether that wasn’t a rather inefficient way of doing things, Sanford laughed.

“It’s the polar opposite of efficient. The easiest thing to do would be to make one call and buy $20,000 of gift certificates from Target or Wal-Mart or some other big box store. That would do nothing for the business owners in this community and their workers. We are buying the gift cards at full price, though there are some restaurants that contacted us to be involved, and in those cases we’re buying gift cards and they’re matching our contributions.”

Hermosa Brewing Company’s Dave Davis and BeachLife’s Tammy Saunt. Local restaurants and BeachLife are partnering on a program to distribute gift cards over the holidays.

“We are trying to create a kind of wheel where our corporate partners like Subaru Pacific and the Beach Cities Health District, Tito’s Vodka, and Jack Daniels supply the capital, and we help it circulate in our community. Our initiatives keep evolving. The people at Sikola Bredesen real estate sponsored a challenge where if you go and clean some trash off the beach, you get a gift card. It’s a safe way to get people outside and doing good. It’s a way to bring smiles to people’s faces when we’re all going through a miserable time right now.”

One might expect a mob of people would be in line for those cards, but the initial response was smaller than Allen expected.

“We have had a trickle of people contacting us so far, and I think it’s for two reasons. First of all, the program isn’t very well-known yet. People aren’t going out or interacting socially as much as they used to, so they have fewer channels of information and the word spreads slower than usual. Second, nobody wants to say, ‘I need help.’ There might be a level of embarrassment, because they’re probably more used to giving help than asking for it. We’re reaching out, inviting people to nominate someone who might need help, and then we’ll contact them.”

That personal contact is time-consuming and has been helped by the fact that when people learn about the program, many want to be involved.

“I have a small staff, and we have had some great volunteers who have reached out and said, ‘I want to help, this is cool.’ I didn’t really expect that, but it has been really appreciated.”

When asked how long this program is expected to last, you could hear Sanford’s shrug over the phone.

“This started out as a Christmas program, but we’re going to keep it going as long as it’s needed. We’ve learned a lot about being dynamic and flexible, so we’re just going to do it until there’s no money left. We’ll give away whatever people are kind enough to donate.”

Anyone who would like to get involved, as a donor, recipient, or volunteer, can get more information at the BeachLife Facebook page and at the website beachlifefestival.com/operationsmiles. ER

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