Holiday Spirit

Najiha Alsamar, left, is the garden program manager for Fresh Approach and Isabel Medina is the south bay food access program manager. Courtesy Fresh Approach.

Posted December 3, 2021

Taking a Fresh Approach to expanding access to healthy, high-quality foods
Nonprofit tackles food insecurity through nutrition classes, vegetable gardens and farmers markets

by Zoe Morgan / Palo Alto Weekly

Blvina Ramirez has long had an interest in growing her own food but simply didn't have space in her apartment. Things changed when she got involved with Fresh Approach roughly five years ago.

The nonprofit's community garden in East Palo Alto gave Ramirez the room she needed to grow organic fruits and vegetables in an affordable way to feed her family, and its classes gave her tips on incorporating more healthy options into her diet.

"With Fresh Approach, it's made a big difference economically because I have a big plot of land. I grow a lot of things. And also they give me coupons that I can spend at the farmers market," Ramirez said in Spanish through a translator.

Fresh Approach is a nonprofit focused on expanding access to healthy, locally grown food throughout the Bay Area. They offer nutrition and cooking classes, a community garden and mobile farmers markets. The group also runs the East Palo Alto Community Farmers' Market, which has operated in the city since 2007.

"Fresh Approach has a spread of different program areas encompassing food security and food access, nutrition education and community gardening," said Andy Ollove, Fresh Approach's food access program director.

Although Fresh Approach works throughout the Bay Area, in East Palo Alto all of its program areas come together, Ollove said, calling it "a real hub of activity."

Ramirez, an East Palo Alto resident for the past 23 years, is involved in a wide range of Fresh Approach's offerings, including shopping at the farmers market, taking classes, serving on the group's Community Ambassadors Board and growing food in the community garden.

During the warmer months, Ramirez goes to the garden daily to check on her crops, while in the winter time she pops by three to four times a week. She usually stays for at least an hour, sometimes three or more. Working in the garden not only saves her money but also connects her with the natural world and is an outlet to reduce stress.

"It's had a huge impact in many different ways. First, that it saves me a lot of money, growing my own vegetables, and it gets rid of stress — I can go gather fresh vegetables and I can work in my garden when I have time," Ramirez said.

The Collective Roots Gardening Program, located at 1785 Woodland Ave. , gives participants the chance to grow their own organic food, while also providing resources such as gardening classes, free seeds, community composting and a tool lending library.

Fresh Approach also provides access to healthy foods and supports local farmers through the East Palo Alto farmers market. Discounts are available for lower income shoppers, giving them the chance to buy fresh produce from local family farms, something that is often out of reach financially.

"Something we try to center is providing food assistance with dignity — allowing for an effort toward individualization and cultural relevancy, so the food is special to the people receiving it. It's not just sustenance, it's filled with human care," Ollove said. "There's no reason that the best food available, that's grown right here in our own county and nearby counties, can't reach folks who don't have access to it. We think it's just a way to imbue dignity into the hunger relief ecosystem."

During the pandemic, Fresh Approach also has been distributing boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income households. The boxes are designed by Fresh Approach nutritionists and include recipe instructions, nutrition resources and advice for budget-friendly healthy eating. The nonprofit plans to use this year's $10,000 Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund grant to help continue the program.

A major part of Fresh Approach's work is pairing food access with nutrition education through its VeggieRx program, which is a series of classes that give participants knowledge and resources about home cooking and healthy eating, Ollove said.

Those who participate in VeggieRx also get vouchers to use at local farmers markets, so they can pick up fruits and vegetables to apply the skills they've learned in class at home.

The workshops Ramirez has taken have helped her learn how to select healthier options and add more vegetables to dishes she already makes, as well as gaining insight into how to access high quality food that is typically more expensive.

"Everything is healthier and fresher," Ramirez said. "I can go to the farmers market and buy things that are fresher and have a different taste than those at the store."

While Fresh Approach works to introduce participants to new food options, it also aims to provide ingredients that are familiar and culturally relevant, Ollove said. That means offering items like nopales, a type of edible cactus, in East Palo Alto, where a large majority of the population is Latino.

"I've never heard of a food bank giving out nopales," Ollove said. "That just comes from being embedded within the community and knowing where the food is going, as well as being receptive to getting feedback and hearing from community voices about what they'd like to see."

In her own community garden plots, Ramirez said she is able to grow the ingredients that are most useful in her own cooking. Some of her favorite items to grow have been cilantro, tomatillos, broccoli and chiles. She also helps grow crops in the garden at East Palo Alto Charter School, where she has harvested radishes, sweet potatoes and corn.

All of her work has meant that over the past year, Ramirez said she hasn't had to buy very much produce, instead making meals with what she's grown herself.

"It has made a huge difference for me and my family," Ramirez said. "Hopefully they will make more spaces to give more opportunities to other families so that, like me, they can benefit from eating healthier and having their own vegetables."

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


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

Blossom Birth & Family$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


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


Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education

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


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


Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)

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

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000


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



Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

As of December 5th, 143 donors have contributed $132,992 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

23 Anonymous6,975
Judy Ousterhout*
Elaine Hah1,500
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Marian Adams100
John Keller100
Donna Silverberg100
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Charlotte Johansen200
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Jody Maxmin*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Diane Finkelstein250
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
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Cynthia Costell100
Bill Reller*
Scottie Zimmerman100
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Jan Aarts*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
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*
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Judy Kramer*
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Paul & Jane Millman250
Bruce Campbell*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Fran Codispoti250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Donald Price*
In Memory Of

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

Joe Simitian*
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Businesses & Organizations

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

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