For the past eight months, local nonprofit organizations like East Palo Alto's Ecumenical Hunger Program have been scrambling to meet the needs of their clients. In ordinary times, Ecumenical Hunger Program staff would be hard at work to provide emergency food, clothing, furniture, household essentials, social support and sometimes financial assistance for families in need.
But since the pandemic and shutdown began, the agency has had to do a hard pivot.
With families out of work and many not qualifying for government assistance, the greatest need in the community has simply been food, according to Executive Director Lesia Preston.
The nonprofit is distributing 1,000 boxes of food per week — at least double the pre-pandemic level of 350 to 500, she said. Because of public health mandates, the nonprofit cannot bring in volunteers to help, and the 45-year-old nonprofit has temporarily closed all services except for essential food programs.
Food boxes containing protein, vegetables, grains, cereals and canned goods are distributed using a drive-thru method at the agency's Pulgas Avenue headquarters in East Palo Alto.
Unfortunately, traditional food bank resources at the same time are "diminishing," she said.
To supplement food bank supplies, Preston and her staff have contacted local grocery stores, warehouses, restaurants and farms to see if they can get donations or purchase critical supplies in bulk.
"Staff members are wearing multiple hats, which include sourcing food, picking up and accepting fresh food donations, stocking the food pantry, packing food boxes, directing traffic and more," Preston said.
She and key staff members are working seven days a week to keep up with the demand.
To give a much-needed boost to organizations like Ecumenical Hunger Program, the Palo Alto Weekly is again launching its annual Holiday Fund campaign to raise funds for dozens of programs serving families and children in the Palo Alto area.
Last year, nearly 400 business organizations and community members donated to the campaign, which then directed a record-breaking $465,600 to 63 vetted organizations in the area. Because the Weekly and its Holiday Fund partner the Silicon Valley Community Foundation covered all the administrative costs of the campaign, every dollar raised went directly to nonprofit organizations through grants of between $5,000 and $20,000, as well as into $1,000 college scholarships for eight high school students.
Since launching in 1993, the fund has given away more than $7.6 million.
"The needs in our area have always been pressing for those families and individuals who aren't benefiting from the tech economy, but this year, with the pandemic, our nonprofit partners are seeing deeper and more widespread pleas for assistance. What's more, those agencies are operating within considerable constraints due to public health protocols," Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said this week.
"We've always been inspired by the unflagging generosity of our fellow neighbors who donate to the Holiday Fund. As this pandemic has exacerbated the inequities in our community, we're asking those who have been less materially affected to please join us in supporting these nonprofits that are working around the clock to ease the burdens of increasing numbers of people," Johnson said.
In addition to individual tax-deductible donations, the fund this year is being supported through matching grants from local, longstanding foundations, including the Packard, Hewlett, Peery and Arrillaga foundations, so that every donation is effectively doubled.
The Holiday Fund campaign is also seeded by the annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk, which this year took place virtually and raised more than $50,000 with help from participants and the event's corporate sponsors: Stanford Health Event, Bank of the West, Wilson Sonsini, Sutter Health/PAMF, Palantir, Facebook, Wealth Architects, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, A Runner's Mind, the city of Palo Alto and The Six Fifty.
In the coming weeks, the Weekly will profile several of the agencies that have benefited from the grants this year and show how donors' dollars are impacting people's lives.
To contribute online to the campaign, go to siliconvalleycf.org/Paw-holiday-fund.
Nonprofits wishing to apply for a grant can find guidelines here. The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2021.
For those who need food assistance, call Ecumenical Hunger Program at 650-323-7781 or stop by the agency Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon or 2:30-4:30 p.m. More information about EHP can be found at ehpcares.org.