In the latest Around Town, news about a nonprofit's effort to make spirits bright this holiday season for families living in RVs, a pastor's Desks for Distance Learning project and a questionable Palo Alto Utilities advertisement.
FULFILLING CHRISTMAS WISHES ... Every other Saturday since late March, the Karat School Project has dropped off educational materials and gift cards for food to local families living in recreational vehicles. RV dwellers have said each visit feels like Christmas, according to Executive Director Evelyne Keomain. This month, the organization planned ahead to bring holiday cheer for the families they serve. Within two weeks, the nonprofit worked with parents to get their children's wish lists by text message (many wanted bicycles) and gathered the items through donor support. The gifts were delivered Dec. 19 to about 35 families, each with an average of five children, who live in RVs along El Camino Real in Palo Alto. "The joy in the children's eyes — it was just amazing," Keomian said. The families also received gift cards to purchase holiday meals. The assistance was particularly meaningful to a single mother of a 3-year-old boy. She was unable to text the nonprofit her son's wish list because she has been out of work due to the pandemic, preventing her from paying her phone bill. The nonprofit gave her a Target gift card that she spent on her son's first Christmas gift: a toy from the film "Cars." "To be able to hand a gift to a child that may not have had a gift otherwise ... it's a good feeling," Keomian said.
A STRONG FOUNDATION ... When the Rev. Greg Schaefer of University Lutheran Church heard from a local teacher that their students attended classes on Zoom from the floor or couch, he decided to tap into his carpentry background to launch the "Desks for Distance Learning'' project. Since mid-September, 45 of the 57 requested desks have been built. Community contributions and church funds paid for the materials, which cost about $45 per desk. Schaefer found help from locals to meet the demand. He and a fellow woodworker prepared detailed directions ahead of time. Volunteers came to the church to pick up the materials, assemble the desks outdoors and bring them inside the sanctuary when completed. "Even though we're not using our sanctuary for worship right now, to walk in there and see lumber and tools and screws ... we're doing God's work in there, in a different way," Schaefer said. To align with health protocols, each appointment was limited to members of the same household and no two appointments conflicted. The desks are left unpainted so the students have a chance to personalize them. "A child moving those 3 feet from the floor to a desktop, to be able to do their schoolwork — that 3 feet represents a pretty big change." Anyone interested in a desk can email Schaefer at [email protected]
A PLEDGE FOR DIVERSITY ... Some Palo Alto Utilities customers were a bit put off when they received an insert in their utility bill this month advertising ProjectPledge, a program that assists residents who have trouble paying their utility bills. It wasn't the program itself that was the issue but the two photos used in the ad: one featuring a Black family and another featuring a Black couple. "Why must we assume that African Americans are the ones who need this kind of assistance, when no other racial groups were represented?" resident Michael Cass asked in a letter. Utilities officials maintain that there was no intention to link the program with any race and that any suggestion that Black individuals are more likely to need assistance with their bills was unintentional. Catherine Elvert, communications manager for Palo Alto Utilities, said the marketing approach is to "focus on all aspects of the community" and to depict images of customers of "all ages and races." The fact that this flyer only depicted Black individuals was coincidental, she said. "We strive to show diversity across our communication and outreach channels to reflect the diversity of the community we serve."