Humanitarian Oneida 'Mother' Branch dies at 92

East Palo Alto woman helped the needy for decades

Oneida "Mother" Branch, 92, who for years collected and provided food and clothing for East Palo Alto's needy, died of natural causes Tuesday (March 22).

She was born in New Orleans, La., in 1918 and spent her teenage years in Chicago, Ill. She moved to California in the 1950s with her husband, the late Rev. James Branch, to co-found the St. John Missionary Baptist Church on Bay Road in East Palo Alto.

Soon after moving to East Palo Alto she became involved with helping those in need, offering shelter, food and clothing to impoverished families.

"She never was a rich woman but she never turned anyone away. If she didn't have what they needed, she located it," great-granddaughter Kymia Crum said.

Eventually she founded the East Palo Alto Community Service Center, running it from her home and getting other churches, schools and businesses involved with collecting and donating supplies for the poor, especially during the holidays.

"She brought the city together. She was an outstanding woman. I never met anyone like her," Crum said.

"We as a family will most definitely try to keep the center going."

She is survived by three sons: Erwin Babney, Whitney Babney and Nate Branch; 18 grandchildren; and 33 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be planned at a later date. The family asked that donations be sent to Jones Mortuary, 660 Donohoe St., East Palo Alto.

Karla Kane

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Like this comment
Posted by Debbie Ford-Scriba
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 10:37 am

Heaven has a new saint. RIP Mother Branch.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

A beautiful life. Rest in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeanne Cooper
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

She was tireless, fearless, gracious and generous...our church youth group (St Bede's) was so fortunate to be able to work with her a few years ago, before her annual Christmas giveaways to the needy, truly seeing faith in action. Thank you, Mother Branch, and my deepest sympathies to her family.

Like this comment
Posted by Chloe
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

Mother Branch was blessed and highly favored in her community. I knew her when I would come to sing at different church musicials in EPA. Her work is done and now it is time for her to rest! Condolences to the family as well.God will give you strenght to make it through!!

Like this comment
Posted by Arn Cenedella
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

Mrs Branch and other women like Gertrude Wilks did quite a bit to help those less fortunate in their community. End of an era with Mrs Branch's passing!

Like this comment
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Before meeting Mother Branch in person, for several years, I just spoke with her over the phone, arranging for trucks to take loads nicer men's, women's & children's coats, jackets & career clothing, that was donated in the yearly Coat Drives I organized for CAADA -California Ave., after I gave the all-weather men's jackets to the Urban Ministry.

One year, I wanted to meet Mother Branch in person, since she always asked when I would come over. So I delivered 8 carloads to her myself. I'll always remember that first time we met, she enthusiastically exclaimed to me, "I'm your black mother!"

Mother had "children" all over the United States, I think! She'd get calls for help from other states- and she'd actually MAIL goods to people, never turning anyone away. -- I did mention to her that contacting a grocery store there, and arranging for gift cards might work well, but - she wanted to get help to them fast, and herself! So by mail worked for her!

I remember her energy - even in her late 80's, she'd be hauling in bags of things I brought to her, yelling "NATE!! NATE!!" - calling from the sidewalk, to her son, who didn't know she'd left the house, to help us.

Mother Branch was a perfect combination of brains & brawn. Age? Who cares. It was just a number- though she was pleased with her advanced years, outside of the ailments that came with it. She told me she kept her faith in God, by remembering all the times He had helped her in the past, going back to her childhood.

She treated EVERYONE like a natural born child. Her home was like Grand Central Station, with people coming and going - some real children, grandchildren, and some folks - entire families - just needing help with food or clothing. I'd meet more people - I couldn't keep up with them all.

One memory stuck out in my mind. It was after the last Coat Drive was over. Someone had donated lovely men's suits, shirts and ties. So I was delivering them to her, coming and going to my car to bring in more things.

When I arrived, she introduced me to a tall, distinguished looking man with lovely brown eyes, and a gentle spirit. He looked sharp in a gorgeous suit. I thought he was related. Mother was going back and forth, checking out the new items I'd brought, and looking for a shirt.

I didn't know why she was on a MISSION to find a shirt. Until I noticed the man had taken off his jacket, and underneath was a T-shirt with fist-size holes in it. Mother was fitting him for Sunday church services. The suit he was wearing was one that had been donated in the CAADA drive. Mother had known his mother, and she had promised to always look out for him- she was fulfilling her word.
The man was so grateful, & Mother was elated to be able to help him.

That memory is burned in my mind. "There's always a need" she'd say. And the community stepped to the plate, year after year, not only with clothing, but also during holidays, to help with food for Thanksgiving and Christmas - like one year, when 2 of her 3 freezers stopped working, and the community helped replace freezers! From her, I learned a small kindness & a helping hand, goes a long way.

Mother Branch helped me, when for seven years, I befriended a local homeless person that needed help- mostly with size 12 running shoes, and all-weather items. This person walked everywhere or took buses-not wanting a bicycle for fear he'd lose it, and Mother had shoes for me, every time I'd ask her if she had a pair to spare.

She's always ask about him, "How's your friend?" Since he died (outside on the street) on January, 2, 2011, I believe he and Mother Branch are in heaven right now, in their mansions. God rest both souls - two gentle people, that can now meet. Mother will be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Nadine Brown
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Mother Branch was a tireless champion of the poor and mother to the East Palo Alto (and world) community. I thank her for all her work here on earth as I know that after a rest, she'll be putting forth some serious work in heaven. Rest In Peace, my loved community mother.

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I am honored that I got to work with her - her mission, helping others less fortunate. She was an amazing angel on earth.

Like this comment
Posted by MENLO
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Job well done! R.I.P.

Like this comment
Posted by Maya
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2011 at 6:38 am

A one of a kind human being! How fortunate this earth was to blessed with such a woman. May her family's hearts fill with joy knowing that their "mother" made a difference and did what no one else could do, can do, sustained peace, love, and giving!

Like this comment
Posted by Kristin Dabney
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:13 am

My great grandmother was an outstanding woman, who lived a glorious life by giving her life over to Jesus. I am told she is in a better place now, but I miss and love her sooo much. I know that God will take good care of my Mother Branch and I believe I will see her once again. Thank you grandmother for loving me and showing me that someone cared! Thank you for sharing your blessing amongst so many people (including me)! I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you! Rest In Peace My Dear Great Grandmother Oneida Branch, You will truly be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Lakiba Pittman
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:40 am

Mother Branch... A gracious and kind spirit... Strong and inspirational and a true role model for me as a child and beyond on how to serve others. She "saw me", encouraged me, and touched me deeply. R.I.P. Mother.

Like this comment
Posted by Dr. Mary Bains-Fort
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Mother Branch was a supporting friend to the entire Bains Family Mr & Mrs Dante & Patrica Bains, Professor Richard & Dr.Amalia-Mesa Bains, Pastor Wiley & Mrs Sheren Champion, Bishop Wesley D. Fort & Dr. Mary Bains-Fort, Associate Pastor Charles & Minster Rebecca Matthews and Pastor Paul J. & Mrs. Cheryl Bains. She was truly a woman of substance, courage and integrity. We the Bains Family, as well as the community at large will miss her inspirational presence. We send are deepest, heart-felt condolences to the Branch Family. Our Father will provide comfort, support and guidance to carry you all through this most tender time of need. God bless you. Dr. Mary Bains-Fort

Like this comment
Posted by Julinda
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

Mother Branch was a wonderful woman to me and my children. She welcomed me into her family with lots of love. I will miss her dearly. My son, her great grandson Tyree will always remember her.

Like this comment
Posted by Myra Hicks
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:31 am

Thank God for "Mother Branch"! When I was a member of St. John, she taught me grace, manners and how to be a lady! She was always stern but gentle! She will be missed, but never forgotten! Thank you Mother Branch for being all that God called you to be! A TRUE WOMAN OF GOD!

Like this comment
Posted by Niambi Lincoln
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:56 am

Mother Branch a virtuous woman
Proverbs 31:10-31 (King James Version)
10Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Like this comment
Posted by T Berk
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2011 at 11:11 am

Growing up in East Palo Alto I was supported by, and loved deeply by many loving hands.

I'd like to give thanks for the life lived with love, the work that was done, and the blessings shared.

Mother Branch was a mother of mine as well.

Tosha Berk
Son & Grandson of two Ida Maes.

2 people like this
Posted by Mother Branch's Granddaughter
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm

thank u for all the wonderful comments about my Grandmother. She was Phenomenal woman. She is missed I see not just by our family but loved ones from every where. On behalf of my family we appreciate the kind words

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