Holiday Spirit

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.

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2024 Recipient Agency

Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula
Provides after-school academic support, enrichment, college and career access, and mental health programs to more than 5,000 low-income youth at 29 locations from East Palo Alto to Daly City.

Ecumenical Hunger Program
Provides emergency food, clothing, household essentials, and sometimes financial assistance to families in need, regardless of religious preference, including Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for more than 2,000 households.

Fair Oaks Community Center
The Fair Oaks Community Center provides social services to the residents of the neighborhood, including programs for seniors, immigrants, renters and the unhoused, as well as housing assistance, ESL classes and child care.

Provides shelter/housing and supportive services across 18 sites in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. Serves thousands of homeless families and individuals annually on their path back to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

Literacy Partners
Supports literacy programs and projects through fundraising and community awareness. Helps community members enhance their reading, writing and related skills and education to improve their economic, professional and personal wellbeing.

Ravenswood Family Health Center
Provides primary medical and preventive health care for all ages at its clinic in East Palo Alto. Of the more than 17,000 registered patients, most are low-income and uninsured and live in the ethnically diverse East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks areas.

St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room
Serves hundreds of hot meals six days a week to people in need who walk through the doors. Funded by voluntary contributions and community grants, St. Anthony's is the largest dining room for the needy between San Francisco and San Jose. It also offers take-home bags of food, as well as emergency food and clothing assistance.

Second Harvest Food Bank
Second Harvest Food Bank distributes nutritious food to low income individuals and families, leveraging every available food resource and collaborating with other organizations and people to feed the needy in the community.

Serves more than 32,000 people throughout San Mateo County, including children, young people and families, with counseling, prevention, early intervention, education, and residential programs. StarVista also provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services including a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline, an alcohol and drug helpline, and a parent support hotline.

Upward Scholars
Upward Scholars empowers low-income adults by providing them with financial support, tutoring, and other assistance so they can continue their education, get higher-paying jobs, and serve as role models and advocates for their children.

As of December 11th, 69 donors have contributed $72,642 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

10 Anonymous12,800
Vicky & Jim Merchant500
Jerry & Shirley Carlson300
Andrea Julian1,000
Betty Meissner100
James Esposto*
Sandy Cold500
Melanie Austin*
Robert & Connie Loarie*
Maggie Markdasilva500
Douglas Keare & Jill Morgan2,000
Mendelsohn Family2,500
Joan Rubin100
Kathryn Stivers1,000
Bill & Nancy Ellsworth*
Stephen Martin500
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Dave & Diane Toole100
Mary Pless250
Tom & Ann Livermore500
Ken Turkowski120
Susan Kritzik & Bruce McAuley*
Laura Hofstadter & Leonard Shar750
William & Dana Starling100
Brandon Madison250
Connie & Bob Lurie1,000
Michael & Leslie Crisp*
joyce castellino500
Foody Family500
Linda Craig and Evan Hughes250
Bill Wohler462
Sidney Chen & Sandra Lee Chen*
Mark and Karen Weitzel*
Cathy and Jim Koshland150
Kurt & Sue Jaggers10,000
Kayleen Miller200
Sybille Katz*
Dennis Ruby300
Paul Welander25
Karen Perlroth*
Karen Perlroth*
Barbara and Charles Preuss500
Janet Buce Cook*
Don & Catherine Coluzzi*
Vicky Rundorff*
Paul Perret1,000
Jim & Karen Lewis*
Colleen & Geoff Tate*
Marc & Mary Ann Saunders*
Greg & Penny Gallo500
John and Shirley Reiter150
Barb Jacobson150
Lori & Dennis McBride*
John Donald and Elaine Hammond*
In Memory Of

Jeannie LeMesurier 100
Bill Davey1,000
Hugh D. Kennedy200
Bob Mueller100
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Nancy Stevens*