In the latest Around Town column, news about a reopening date set for the Magical Bridge playground in Palo Alto, the Ecumenical Hunger program's expanded food closet and the results of Palo Alto Unified's middle school mock election.
THE MAGIC IS BACK ... It's been a bit of a wait, but Palo Alto's most popular playground, Magical Bridge, will finally reopen to the public on Nov. 17 under new coronavirus protocols, city officials announced this week. Due to its high number of visitors — about 25,000 a month before COVID-19 —the Mitchell Park attraction, which is accessible to visitors of all abilities, was the only city playground to remain shuttered for the past month even as all the other city playgrounds were permitted to open back up with new safety measures. Magical Bridge will now have new rules to control overcrowding, including a 30-minute time limit for visits and capacity of 55 visitors at one time. When demand is high, visitors will be asked to line up 6 feet apart and wait for their turn. City staff will monitor the entrance and exit to the playground to make sure the site doesn't exceed capacity and that everyone is socially distanced. The playground will be open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to the city's announcement. On Mondays, staff will clean the playground and open it up for limited hours to disability classes and organizations. The rules are largely consistent with the requests from the Magical Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit that has been advocating for inclusive playgrounds and that is preparing to open a new one in Redwood City. The city and nonprofit are also looking for new Kindness Ambassadors, volunteers who will monitor the playground, welcome visitors and assist with group transitions. Shifts are available in two-hour slots for those ages 14 and higher, according to the city and the foundation. Those interested in becoming an ambassador are asked to contact volunteer coordinator Chase Hartmann at [email protected] Jill Asher, executive director of the Magical Bridge Foundation, thanked city officials for their support in developing a reopening plan that she said will "welcome the community back to play safely at the Magical Bridge Playground." "Please ensure that we can continue to offer you this magical experience by following our new rules to play safe for all to enjoy."
'NICE AND FRESH' ... Feeding local low-income families has been particularly urgent for the Ecumenical Hunger Program as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for boxes filled with protein, vegetables, cereals and other goods. Nowadays, the East Palo Alto nonprofit is distributing donations outdoors, which has allowed them to renovate and expand their food closet with an extra 13.9 feet by 8.9 feet of space. Once public health orders allow the organization to welcome community members back inside, they'll notice a bigger space with new flooring, a project that was years overdue, according to Executive Director Lesia Preston. "It just looks nice and fresh," she said. The closet now has an office area for case managers, which will help make food distribution run more smoothly. The organization also has new, industrial-strength shelves that will allow staff members to easily find items rather than having to pull them out from boxes. The work was completed with financial help from the Rotary Club of Palo Alto. The club granted EHP with $10,000, the largest of its 10 community grants distributed earlier this year, according to member and City Council member Liz Kniss. Kniss said she and fellow Rotary Club member Betsy Bechtel made a field trip to EHP's Pulgas Avenue office as part of the vetting process for potential grantees and made the case for why EHP should be awarded the funding. "I remember when it (EHP) got started long ago and it's still running and it still meets an incredible need," Kniss said.
EARLY VOTING ... On Nov. 2, almost 2,000 middle school students in Palo Alto participated in a virtual, mock presidential election after spending weeks learning about politics, civics and U.S. government in their social studies classes. The first-time voters overwhelmingly supported former Vice President Joe Biden (more than 80% at all three schools). At Fletcher and Greene middle schools, 7.4% of students voted for President Donald Trump and at JLS Middle School, 8.6%. Seventh and eight graders also voted on various state propositions in which they were interested. "Elections provide many exciting opportunities to teach students about how government works, the election process, campaign politics, and current events," said Kirsten Missett, who teaches seventh grade social studies at Greene. "Even though these are uncertain times, listening to our students engage in thoughtful and respectful conversations about such meaningful topics as the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, the California Propositions, voting rights, etc. has been truly awe inspiring and up-lifting."