Blog/Partners - Unite to Light

Unite to Light employee presenting solar lights to a group of African women




Like many of you, we had big ambitions for 2020. We had a whole new program in partnership with the University of California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the sale of our Luke Lights, an exciting partnership between two schools in Ghana and Newton, Massachusetts, and a tenth anniversary event that would bring us all together. The first part of the year wasn’t that different from most years - we sent Lights & Chargers to Puerto Rico after the earthquakes struck and Chargers to Haiti for a midwife training program with UNFPA. We squeezed in a few in-person events with Rotary, a fundraiser at a local pizza restaurant, and even an epic roof-top dance party hosted by In This Together Events

Then the world shut down. Our new reality was a crisis at home, but also an opportunity to help. As public spaces and businesses like libraries and coffee shops were asked to close their doors, our neighbors experiencing homelessness were left with nowhere to charge their phones. They didn’t want to go to shelters for fear of catching COVID and were asked to “shelter in place” in their tents in the streets, and near train tracks and river beds. We mobilized quickly to get out as many of our Solar Chargers as we could, and ordered more, knowing this would not be a short term problem. We started with our local partners at United Way, the County of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Street Medicine, but quickly grew our outreach to organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston and Nashville. In all we distributed over 3,000 Chargers to people living on the streets in the US. You can learn more about why our Solar Chargers are important to people experiencing homelessness in our blog here

Unfortunately things weren’t moving quite as quickly across the globe. With borders closing and stay at home orders in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, our lights (and other humanitarian aid) were stranded through the spring and most of the summer. But we didn’t let that hold us back - we knew that borders would open again and demand would be higher than ever from students schooling from home in mud huts and midwives who had become frontline medical workers. We hosted our first “Stay At Home Silent Auction & Virtual Event” where our partners spoke directly to the importance of light and power in their work. We also took the time to rebuild our website to make it more user-friendly, modern and responsive. We built in new tools so that partners could fundraise through our platform and had several successful events with the Universal Human Rights InitiativeSidewalk Samaritans, and even a virtual Zumba class! 

As borders across Africa began to open, we mobilized to get Luke Lights to students in need. Working with both ChildFund in Sierra Leone and Children in the Wilderness - Malawi, we sent 2000 lights to students so they could continue their education safely at home. Back in California, as wildfires raged, we partnered with Southern California Edison, the California Fire Foundation and One Step A La Vez to provide education and other resources to low-income, Spanish-speaking communities at high risk of wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs. The grant provided information on power shutoffs and wildfires, got people signed up for alerts and gave them Solar Chargers so that they can power their phones during emergencies.

As summer came to a close we decided to try something new to bring our community together - a global, virtual 5k event. As our first event of this kind, we found it to be a roaring success. We had dozens of people run, walk, hike, swim, bike and row across the US and raised over $13,000 to provide solar lights to their favorite Unite to Light partners. Watch our video of participant highlights here.  We were also the beneficiary of a virtual event hosted by the Adam Ezra Group that enabled us to send both Luke Lights and Solar Chargers to the New England Center for Homeless Vets.

This Fall was a rush to get lights out to those most in need. While the students from Massachusetts and Ghana weren’t able to do their exchange in person, we were still able to send their Lights and Chargers to Ghana. The students in Ghana distributed these to their less fortunate neighbors living without electricity in rural areas. In October the Luke Lights for the University of California (UC) Carbon Offset grant finally reached our partners in Tanzania, Solar Sister. We are also working with the UC to transition this effort to a larger project that will help more people across Africa to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels for lighting, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve economic opportunities. 

Closer to home, our neighbors in the US are still very much in need of Chargers to stay safe on the streets during the global pandemic and we are working with partners across the country to get light and power into their hands. To the south, our Central American neighbors were hit hard by multiple hurricanes this fall. As global tragedy piled on top of global tragedy we sent lights to Honduras through ChildFund and Community Health Partners - Honduras to aid relief and recovery efforts there. Combined, we shipped over 25,000 Luke Lights and Solar Chargers to people across the globe in 2020. Every light is hope, opportunity and possibility. We could not have done this without you and we thank you for your support bringing light to people living in darkness. 

Year end is always an important time for us: our Luke Lights fly off the shelves as you buy them as gifts for loved ones and build our Buy One | Give One account. This year, Giving Tuesday brought in a new batch of recurring donors who have created our first group of Shining Light partners. Your year-end donations ensure that we can continue to send light and power to those in need. We are grateful for your support this year and if you have capacity, ask that you make a donation to help Change a Life & Light the World.


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