With a pledge from a wealthy local, a Santa Barbara County organization is working to receive up to $50,000 to increase voter turnout rates among low-income Santa Barbara residents for the November 2004 presidential election.

PUEBLO, which stands for People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing, was the beneficiary of a matching grant offered by Jimmy Walter, a local businessman. Walter, of Tampa, Florida-based manufacturing company Walter Industries Inc., pledged to match every dollar donated to PUEBLO up to $50,000.

PUEBLO director Harley Augustino said Walter threw a kickoff party and fund-raiser at his Santa Barbara home May 15 that raised about $6,000. Since then, Augustino said PUEBLO has raised an additional $4,000.

“It was a wild fund-raiser,” Augustino said. “Jimmy Walter said he was taking a leap with this $50,000 challenge grant and challenged the community to match him. Then he jumped into the pool with all his clothes on.”

Although several labor organizations and churches have made contributions, Augustino said 80 to 90 percent of the donations have come from individuals.

“[Walter]’s been a supporter for about two years, and he really believes in our work and believes that local grassroots organizing is key to creating a movement that influences the whole country,” Augustino said. “This matching grant takes PUEBLO to a whole new level. Not in recent memory has there been such a commitment to a grassroots organization. This is going to help us expand out of Santa Barbara.”

PUEBLO will use the money collected from the challenge grant for community outreach. The organization will hold 120 “house meetings” throughout the county in which representatives will talk to residents about local issues.

“We’re going to do 40 house meetings in people’s homes in I.V. in the next 10 weeks, showing people how to get together with their neighbors and organize for change,” Augustino said. “The money donated will go to voter empowerment in the low-income community. We’ll be doing house meetings, regional campaigning, turning out votes for the November election. We’ll be on campus helping people register [to vote] and have volunteers in I.V.”