Lene Lauese, a staff member at Ecumenical Hunger Program, puts a bag of produce in a client's car at a drive-thru set up by the nonprofit in East Palo Alto on March 19. Clients come by to pick up bags of groceries. Photo by Magali Gauthier.Posted December 3, 2020
Amid pandemic, Holiday Fund launches charitable campaign
Donations help Ecumenical Hunger Program and nine other nonprofits serve the community
by Palo Alto Weekly and Almanac staff
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 45-year-old nonprofit cannot bring in volunteers to help, and it 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 Almanac is again launching its annual Holiday Fund campaign to raise funds for dozens of programs serving families and children in the Midpeninsula.
Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $150,000. Because The Almanac and its Holiday Fund partner the Silicon Valley Community Foundation cover all the administrative costs of the campaign, every dollar raised goes directly to this year's 10 nonprofit organizations.
"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," Almanac Publisher Bill Johnson said.
"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 Rotary Club of Menlo Park, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation so that every donation is effectively doubled.