A record total of $390,000 in grants, collected from 496 donors, was awarded by the Palo Alto Weekly this year as part of the 19th annual Holiday Fund, announced at a reception on Monday night, April 29.
Fifty-five local organizations will benefit from the most money raised in the 20 years that the Holiday Fund has existed, Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said. They will receive grants totaling $380,000, and the remainder will be awarded via scholarships given to graduating high school seniors from Gunn, Palo Alto, Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools who have performed exemplary community service work.
Representatives from four of the nonprofits receiving grant money this year -- Silicon Valley FACES, Project We H.O.P.E., Ada's Cafe and The Magical Bridge Playground -- spoke at the reception on Monday night.
Silicon Valley FACES, an organization that runs Camp Everytown, a retreat where high school students of all races go to the Santa Cruz Mountains for three nights and four days to learn about diversity.
"They go there as strangers and they leave at the end of those four days as family," said Executive Director Pat Mitchell.
Mitchell referenced two news stories -- one local, Audrie Potts -- and one national, the Boston bombings, to explain the impact of the work her organization does.
"When you look at those kinds of issues and those kinds of incidents in the community and in our country, those things happen because we do not have relationships with each other," she said. "And FACES is all about relationship building."
The Holiday Fund's $10,000 grant this year will go toward a FACES program that connects with camp alumni from Gunn high school, and ultimately expand the program to the entire Gunn campus, including faculty.
The second speaker, Pastor Paul Bains, runs Project WeHOPE, which stands for We Help Other People Excel. The organization, which runs a homeless shelter in East Palo Alto called The Warming Shelter, provides food, housing and counseling. It received $10,000 from the Holiday Fund this year. The grant will directly help fund the installation of heating and ventilation systems in the shelter.
"It's rough, as we all know, working in a nonprofit arena," Bains said. "But when you get a call from the Palo Alto police that says there's a mother that has a two-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son in the rain over at Cubberley Community Center and you're able to give them a place to stay, it makes it that much rewarding. It makes going through what you're going through all the worthwhile."
Johnson introduced the last two speakers as linked, running organizations that share a common goal of trying to bring badly needed services for disabled people in the area.
Both organizations -- Ada's Cafe and The Magical Bridge Playground -- received the largest Holiday Fund grants, each getting a total of $25,000.
Kathleen Foley-Hughes of Ada's Cafe, a cafe that will employ disabled young adults alongside community teens in the Mitchell Park Community Center, explained the organization's model and vision her disabled son, Charlie, and two other Ada's employees standing next to her.
"Ada's is about giving jobs to people that are a truly underrepresented part of our community," she said. "The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 80 percent. So that's our mission."
The second organization that focuses on disabled services is The Magical Bridge Playground, which aims to design and build a new kind of playground that will serve all children, those with and without disabilities.
Olenka Villareal, the organization's founding board member and president of Friends of the Magical Bridge Playground, spoke about her disabled daughter.
"I realize there's not a single park where she can really truly play safely. So we want to change the playing field -- literally."
The park is designed "with everybody in mind," Villareal said. She also brought an example of one playground apparatus -- a technologically advanced, interactive musical zone that responds to touch with instrumental sounds and lights.
Villareal added that the Holiday Fund's $25,000 grant will actually amount to a $50,000 investment, as the organization will receive a matching grant from the Peery Foundation.
The Peery Foundation, along with the Packard, Hewlett and Arrillaga Foundations, all made large donations to the Holiday Fund this year.
The Packard Foundation, inspired by an anonymous $100,000 donation given by a Palo Alto family for the second year in a row, upped their support to $50,000.
The Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk, held in September, also raised $29,000. Johnson recognized the run's corporate sponsors for their support: the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati Foundation, Lyfe Kitchen and Hewlett-Packard.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which is the second largest community foundation in the country, also supports the Holiday Fund. The foundation helps to process all donations made, generate the grants and handle administrative costs, enabling 100 percent of the money raised to be distributed to grantees, Johnson said.
View the full list of recipients.