Representatives from local nonprofits gathered on Monday evening as the Palo Alto Weekly awarded $350,000 in grants to 54 organizations providing services to children and families in the community.
At the reception outside the Weekly's office, the Holiday Fund marked its 21st year of offering these grants, during which it has distributed more than $5 million. Bill Johnson, publisher of the Weekly and the event's emcee, remarked how proud he was that the fund has been able to collect such a large sum and distribute it to deserving community projects -- without any deduction for overhead expenses.
"There's not a lot of organizations that can make that claim," Johnson said.
The funds for this year's grants were raised through the Weekly's annual Moonlight Run, gifts from foundations and donations from individuals. The Moonlight Run in 2014 netted $40,000 with the help of its corporate sponsors, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati Foundation. The Hewlett, Packard, Peery and Arrillaga foundations contributed $70,000 to encourage giving through matching challenges. Around 500 individual donors contributed this year, with an anonymous Palo Alto family donating $100,000 for the fourth year in a row.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation again served this year as the fund's partner, Johnson said, processing contributions and assisting in the grant-making process. Foundation representative Anubha Jain spoke briefly at the reception to urge nonprofits to participate in Silicon Valley Gives, a 24-hour day of online giving slated for May 5.
Brief presentations were made by representatives from four grantee organizations spoke: the Buena Vista Residents Association, Common Ground Garden, the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League and Nuestra Casa.
Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association, thanked the Holiday Fund for a $2,500 grant specifically to support and expand counseling services for the park's 400 residents, both adults and children. She said that families at the park have had to deal with many "unknowns (and) ups and downs," which have been particularly hard on the children, but that they are staying hopeful.
"We're positive, and (this grant) will help a lot to continue our work," Escalante said.
Speaking for Common Ground Garden, Mia Sasaki enthusiastically offered details about its programs that teach gardening, nutrition, sustainability and food ethics to children from Juana Briones Elementary, Terman Middle and Gunn High schools -- which received a grant of $5,000. She gave an example of how one class of native Spanish speakers used blue corn grown on site to make pupusas, garnished with fresh produce.
"It's a very holistic approach, ..." Sasaki said, "and the kids get out their crazy energy."
Lourdes Muguerza, an English as a Second Language program director from Nuestra Casa, which was awarded $7,500, described the importance of its free English classes in East Palo Alto, which have helped around 2000 individuals since the ESL program began in 2003. The courses -- which focus on the themes of work, school and health -- provide specific and important skills that allow residents to become part of a larger community, Muguerza said.
"Thank you for supporting them in that effort," she said.
Executive Director Dmitri Seals from the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League conveyed his gratitude for the Weekly's contribution of $5,000, which will help to expand its debate program at Eastside College Preparatory School to two more schools, East Palo Alto Academy and East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. Seals told brief, colorful anecdotes about how similar programs have boosted individual kids' self-esteem, confidence and engagement in school.
Johnson wrapped up the event by noting that two projects supported by large Holiday Fund grants two years ago, the Magical Bridge Playground and Ada's Cafe, have now been fully realized. The Magical Bridge Playground, a play space designed specifically for individuals with special needs, opened officially on April 18; Ada's Cafe, which provides employment opportunities for disabled adults, is now up and running at the new Mitchell Park Community Center.
View the full list of grant recipients here.