Holiday Spirit

Palo Alto Community Child Care Director Melissa Momand plays with students at the Downtown Children's Center in Palo Alto on Nov. 19. Photo by Olivia Treynor.

Posted December 4, 2020

Making child care work during a pandemic
New challenges, including financial, face programs serving the community's youngest

by Elena Kadvany

For Karna and Arne Nisewaner and their two children, Palo Alto Community Child Care has been a lifesaver.

Instead of her elementary-aged children feeling ignored and isolated at home and Nisewaner and her husband feeling endlessly torn between their jobs and managing their children's online learning, her son and daughter are around other children during the day while their parents can work uninterrupted.

Nisewaner said she's watched her children return to their former selves, making new friends at the nonprofit's program at Addison Elementary School and engaging more in online learning with the support of familiar staff whom they knew pre-pandemic.

"The most important thing is the mental (and) social well-being of my kids and the absolute improvement in disposition and mood that they experienced. They're interacting with other kids. They're running around outside. They're playing games," Nisewaner said. "That has had such a mood-stabilizing impact."

Palo Alto Community Child Care (PACCC) reopened in June after three months of pandemic-forced closure. The shutdown has in many ways upended how the nonprofit functions, both on the front end with children and on the back end operationally. The nonprofit is blowing through its reserves, had to close a site and is raising prices to keep its programs open for families who need in-person care, with no clear sense of when public health restrictions will allow for greater capacity and thus revenue.

"I think we need to be really, really concerned about the future of child care," Executive Director Lisa Rock said last month. "Child care is critical to the infrastructure of our cities because this is how parents go to work, and working with your kids underfoot is not a long-term solution."

Palo Alto Community Child Care received a $10,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund this year, which the nonprofit used to buy medical-grade air purifiers for its classrooms and administrative offices. PACCC also reallocated a Holiday Fund grant from last year that was originally supposed to fund a preschool garden project to purchase air purifiers instead. The purifiers accomplish a dual purpose: decreasing the risk of COVID-19 in reopened classrooms and cleaning the air when wildfires bring unhealthy levels of smoke to the Bay Area.

PACCC has spent more than $25,000 on medical grade air purifiers — without which Rock said the child care programs would have had to close during several days of poor air quality this fall.

"They were critical to our ability to operate safely this year," she said of the air purifiers.

PACCC is currently serving about 300 children — compared to the usual 900 across 19 sites — in stable cohorts of 12 with two staff members each. When the nonprofit first reopened this summer, Palo Alto Unified elementary schools were still closed, so PACCC staff became students' distance-learning guides, overseeing 12 children's different schedules, programs and internet needs.

While revenues decreased with fewer students enrolled, the nonprofit's costs went up to be able to staff smaller cohorts of children and to cover additional cleaning, personal protective equipment (PPE) and new health protocols, Rock said. PACCC had to raise prices as a result. Starting on Jan. 1, PACCC will charge families a new "COVID fee," $100 for school-age children and $300 for younger age groups. (Even pre-pandemic, the infant toddler programs were financially tight given the more costly, lower children-to-staff ratios the state requires for young children, Rock said.)

Children are now attending PACCC's programs for full days two to three days a week and half days two to three days a week based on when they're going to school in person. Students older than 2 years old must wear face coverings, as do staff, have their temperatures checked and wash their hands before entering the sites.

"When children return to school and child care, it will feel very different than it did when they left," PACCC's COVID-19 plan states. "There will be times when children forget the new 'rules' and there will be times when children feel distressed by social distancing, missing their parents or maybe they will just need a hug. In these moments we will respond with caring and kindness and make decisions in each moment that put the needs of the child front and center."

Parents must fill out daily health checks for their children, now a sign-in and -out requirement. Parents are no longer allowed to visit their children's classrooms — a major change from the nonprofit's longtime open-door policy, Rock said.

The nonprofit has lost about 20% of its staff, either because there wasn't enough work for them, they moved out of the area or they didn't feel comfortable returning to work in person, Rock said. To keep the cohorts stable, there's also no possibility for substitutes or vacations for staff.

"When we reopened, staff and kids and families were really excited, and I think our staff really recognized just how important the services are that they're providing. On the other hand, it's a hard environment for them to work in. You're very focused on cleaning protocols and daily intake protocols — taking every child's temperature and the litany of health and safety questions you go through before they can even walk through the door every day — and not being able to see a real light at the end of the tunnel," Rock said. "We've been trying to focus more on the emotional well-being of our staff, to help them continue to do this work because the families that need us really need us."

As PACCC continues to operate at a loss, the nonprofit's leadership is looking for other funding opportunities and ways to rebuild reserves to prepare for the next crisis, whatever it may be. Rock, meanwhile, is looking around at other local child care programs, some of which have not reopened and at least one of which closed permanently.

"Child care has always operated on thin margins. Even if you were set up to last for awhile, like we were, you're not going to last forever, and you might not even last a year," Rock said. "Whether you're a larger program like we are or smaller, you're in real jeopardy right now."

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Retired*
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000