Esmeralda Juarez, Ventura College Foundation’s Weekend Marketplace supervisor, was named a Ventura Chamber of Commerce 2021 Hometown Hero during the chamber’s annual Poinsettia Awards Ceremony December 9.
Juarez, who has worked at the Marketplace for 20 years, was honored for her leadership that enabled the Marketplace to remain open and serve the community during the pandemic. For over 35 years, residents have relied on the Marketplace for their everyday goods and fresh produce. The Marketplace also generated almost 100 percent of the operating revenue of the Ventura College Foundation through vendor rental income. When the county shut down on March 13, 2020, the Marketplace closed, leaving the community without an open-air fresh food and goods market and the Ventura College Foundation with only three months of operating cash.
“The Marketplace reopened 2 1/2 months later after Esmeralda was able to guide her team and marketplace vendors through operating and safety protocols while passing continual health and safety inspections,” says Anne Paul King, Ventura College Foundation executive director. “The Marketplace was the only swap meet in the county allowed to operate almost entirely through the pandemic.”
Initially, Juarez had 149 vendors sell their products at the Marketplace. Each weekend, over 1,200 Venturans shopped for essential goods in a safe outdoor environment. When protocols loosened in July 2021, she brought back 150 additional vendors and raised Ventura College Foundation net revenue to pre-pandemic levels within four weeks.
“Ventura College Foundation now has nine months of operating revenue in reserves and is financially secure,” says King. “We could not have done it without Esmeralda. In the next 10 years, the Marketplace will allow the Ventura College Foundation to support over 30,000 students through scholarships and other services. Esmeralda’s leadership over the past two years will have a tremendous long-term impact.”
In addition to Juarez, the chamber honored hometown heroes Gabrielle Moes (on behalf of Seasons Catering), Ashley Bautista (County of Ventura), Monica White (on behalf of Food Share), Isis Wagner (Veterans Home of California, Ventura) and
Anshul Bajaj (on behalf of Stembassadors).