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Neighbors helping neighbors

Volunteer groups in Menlo Park organize to take care of vulnerable neighbors during the coronavirus crisis

By Frederick Rose / Special to The Almanac

Even as the dark shadow of COVID-19 sweeps across our communities, lights of local organizations are popping up as neighbors help neighbors in Menlo Park.

Most of the organizations are focused on small communities, some are bigger, but all are designed to pitch in with aid to people on the block who, sick and self-isolated, need everything from dog walking, to grocery and pharmacy runs, to emergency calls when trouble strikes

Thus, groups have emerged in Park Forest, Felton Gables, Menlo Oaks, the Willows, Sharon Oaks, Marcussen Drive, The Triangle, Suburban Park, and elsewhere. "When this epidemic hit, people just came out to help," said Maria Amundson, co-chair and co-founder of the Felton Gables Emergency Preparedness Team.

"Groups such as these are what we need all over Menlo Park and elsewhere," said Sean Ballard, chairman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's Community Crisis Management group, a volunteer organization prepared to aid Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and unincorporated parts of San Mateo County. "Such 'guerilla pop-ups' suddenly are springing up, providing this important service," he added.

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Indeed, on a recent, gray day, five people walked Menlo Park's Buckthorn Way for door-to-door delivery of an information packet heralding the creation of Park Forest Plus Prepare (PFPP), a new group covering 105 houses in the Park Forest area. The packet included an introductory letter, an encyclopedic 62-page "Pandemic Preparation and Response — Citizen's Guide," and a plant symbolizing neighbors helping neighbors. Frequently the five delivery folks found neighbors coming to their front door to say an immediate thanks.

"The number of people who responded was amazing," said Peter Carpenter, a co-founder of PFPP. "People are concerned, and they want to be connected to others," he added. "Thank you" emails tumbled in as well and the organizers were overwhelmed by the gratitude.

Like most groups, the next steps for PFPP were to set up block preparedness coordinators. There are about 14 in Park Forest. The three neighborhood coordinators are the next step up. The structures are flexible, allowing for feel for the community. For one of the first times in Park Forest townhomes' history, the residents have reached out to a nearby set of houses on the north side of Buckthorn Way, said Scott Barnum, a co-founder of PFPP and neighborhood coordinator for 30 families. There are 105 houses in Park Forest proper, plus others on the north side of Buckthorn Way.

For some, there have been benefits from earlier organization. In Felton Gables, where general neighborhood emergency preparation started in late 2018, the Felton Gables Emergency Preparedness Team went door to door, making connections with neighbors, providing information, encouraging household preparation efforts and learning more about the neighborhood's collective resources and vulnerabilities.

"We asked about people who might have special needs at home, such as the elderly, disabled or young infants, as well as special skills or tools people might be able to contribute," said Amundson, the team coordinator. "We also gave every home a gas shut-off wrench and together with the residents identified their gas, water and electrical shut-offs."

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The census of 113 homes and about 300 residents was so detailed that the group even started a pet spreadsheet with the names, descriptions, ages, addresses and owner phone numbers of the neighborhood's 62 dogs and 28 cats.

The houses were organized under 16 block captains and co-captains, covering roughly eight houses in each "block." With the help of Atherton A.D.A.P.T., a volunteer disaster preparedness group, the Felton Gables team has held training sessions and drills (one including an ice cream social) and, most recently, raised contributions of $75 per household for the purchase of generators and other emergency assembly point equipment where people can gather, provide neighborhood safety and security services, and charge their cellphones and other equipment in a major disaster. The fundraising met with 90% participation, an amount that pleased the Felton Gables group.

"All that structure is available now that COVID-19 is upon us," Amundson said. "Though the COVID-19 pandemic is a very different crisis than the earthquake or other natural disaster being prepared for, the organizational efforts are paying off as block captains and many other neighbors are actively checking on their neighbors, running grocery and pharmacy errands for and otherwise helping others during the current shelter-in-place order."

It takes an emergency such as the advent of COVID-19 to bring people out of their separate lives. "When nothing is needed, emergency awareness goes into a soporific state," said Tom Prussing, president of A.D.A.P.T., the Atherton preparedness group, and secretary of the neighborhood group MPC Ready, a citywide, resident mutual-help organization. Now, with continuing management, those structures are available for "next time," more likely an earthquake or a flood.

Many are crediting Prussing with providing essential information and experience for these local organizations. He and A.D.A.P.T. have been sought out by local organizers of a number of communities.

"I reached out to Tom Prussing and he met with me at Cafe Borrone and impressed upon me the importance of survival," said Rebecca Grant, a founder and board member of the Sharon Oaks Emergency Preparedness Committee. "Up until then, our committee meetings had been about convenience — how to keep our refrigerators running, for example, which of course is not essential in an emergency," she said. "Tom worked with our six organized Sharon Oaks groups of about 15 homes each, with two to three co-coordinators for each group."

Prussing led training sessions for the residents, attended committee meetings, put together a shopping list for households' "emergency cache," and worked with the resident ham radio expert (an Eagle Scout) to plan an emergency drill for the community.

With that well-structured beginning from last year, the Sharon Oaks Emergency Preparedness Committee sprang into action earlier this month. "When COCID-19 hit, all it took was an email from the homeowner's association president Lori Cohen to the 18 group coordinators and the rest fell into place naturally. ... Questions and comments that bubbled up from the folks in their group were transmitted up our organization's chain of command," Grant said.

One of the smaller groups, at Marcussen Drive, has just 54 residential units but has, since 2010, kept a detailed roster of its residents. In times such as these organizers know who needs help, said Nancy Martin, who assembles annual get-togethers around Halloween, where kids come in costumes as adults accumulate information. "Now we send out notes telling people to look after each other," said Ms. Martin.

The largest of the Menlo Park groups covers the entire city and parts of the unincorporated county. MPC Ready is an umbrella organization headed by Lynne Bramlett and Debbie Hudson, who are co-chairs. MPC Ready rode a wave of serendipity when COVID-19 arrived. The group was just starting up as the disease emerged.

“You could see it coming with the epidemic in China. We used it,” said Bramlett. Within days of the organization’s founding in late November 2019, 100 people had held up their hands to be block coordinators, and these days it’s 150, including four members of the City Council: Mayor Cecilia Taylor, Ray Mueller, Catherine Carlton and Drew Combs, who all volunteered when Bramlett went to a council meeting and presented her plan.

Now, with the advent of COVID-19 , MPC Ready is urgently looking for more block co-ordinators for areas not currently organized by other groups. The goal is to cover all of Menlo Park with block and neighborhood coordinators. Volunteers can reach MPC Ready through its website.

While the very local organizations have sprung up largely without city help, they will eventually be fitted in with the MPC Ready network. “We haven’t talked to the city yet, and they haven’t talked to us,” said Amundson of Felton Gables.

“We residents know what’s happening around us and in the neighborhood,” said Barnum of Park Forest. However, ties with the MPC Ready system can be established to get the latest information when needed, he said.

Much of the structure and planning of the "official" organizations have been aimed at earthquake and flood disasters. However, the fire district is taking a cautious approach to the disease. On March 21, it announced that it had created a new two-person Emergency Response Unit. "Perhaps the first of its kind in the nation, this unit will only respond to all suspected COVID-19 incidents in the Fire District. As a result, hopefully only two personnel per day will come in direct contact with suspected COVID-19 patients," the district said in a press release.

Much of the structure and planning of the "official" organizations have been aimed at earthquake and flood disasters. However, the fire district is taking a cautious approach to the disease. On March 21, it announced that it had created a new two-person Emergency Response Unit. "Perhaps the first of its kind in the nation, this unit will only respond to all suspected COVID-19 incidents in the Fire District. As a result, hopefully only two personnel per day will come in direct contact with suspected COVID-19 patients," the district said in a press release.

Perhaps, the very nature of COVID-19 as an easily transmitted killer makes for the kind of invisible fear that brings people together. Beyond feelings of neighborhood warmth and cohesion lie worries that unusually strong neighborhood mutual support will be needed in the tough times ahead. The pandemic could go on for quite a while.

COVID-19 has yet to hit the neighborhoods that are now organizing. As such, "we have yet to see the wave," Amundson noted.

Bramlett estimates that it may be two or more weeks before first responders are able to offer the smoothly functioning services we expect in quieter times. Indeed, "In the weeks ahead," Carpenter said, "all levels of government will become more and more overburdened and less and less able to respond. As that happens, we will have to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. That requires organization. Now is the time to do that."

Frederick Rose is a retired senior writer for the Wall Street Journal. He lives in the Park Forest neighborhood of Menlo Park.

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Neighbors helping neighbors

Volunteer groups in Menlo Park organize to take care of vulnerable neighbors during the coronavirus crisis

Uploaded: Tue, Mar 31, 2020, 2:30 pm

By Frederick Rose / Special to The Almanac

Even as the dark shadow of COVID-19 sweeps across our communities, lights of local organizations are popping up as neighbors help neighbors in Menlo Park.

Most of the organizations are focused on small communities, some are bigger, but all are designed to pitch in with aid to people on the block who, sick and self-isolated, need everything from dog walking, to grocery and pharmacy runs, to emergency calls when trouble strikes

Thus, groups have emerged in Park Forest, Felton Gables, Menlo Oaks, the Willows, Sharon Oaks, Marcussen Drive, The Triangle, Suburban Park, and elsewhere. "When this epidemic hit, people just came out to help," said Maria Amundson, co-chair and co-founder of the Felton Gables Emergency Preparedness Team.

"Groups such as these are what we need all over Menlo Park and elsewhere," said Sean Ballard, chairman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's Community Crisis Management group, a volunteer organization prepared to aid Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and unincorporated parts of San Mateo County. "Such 'guerilla pop-ups' suddenly are springing up, providing this important service," he added.

Indeed, on a recent, gray day, five people walked Menlo Park's Buckthorn Way for door-to-door delivery of an information packet heralding the creation of Park Forest Plus Prepare (PFPP), a new group covering 105 houses in the Park Forest area. The packet included an introductory letter, an encyclopedic 62-page "Pandemic Preparation and Response — Citizen's Guide," and a plant symbolizing neighbors helping neighbors. Frequently the five delivery folks found neighbors coming to their front door to say an immediate thanks.

"The number of people who responded was amazing," said Peter Carpenter, a co-founder of PFPP. "People are concerned, and they want to be connected to others," he added. "Thank you" emails tumbled in as well and the organizers were overwhelmed by the gratitude.

Like most groups, the next steps for PFPP were to set up block preparedness coordinators. There are about 14 in Park Forest. The three neighborhood coordinators are the next step up. The structures are flexible, allowing for feel for the community. For one of the first times in Park Forest townhomes' history, the residents have reached out to a nearby set of houses on the north side of Buckthorn Way, said Scott Barnum, a co-founder of PFPP and neighborhood coordinator for 30 families. There are 105 houses in Park Forest proper, plus others on the north side of Buckthorn Way.

For some, there have been benefits from earlier organization. In Felton Gables, where general neighborhood emergency preparation started in late 2018, the Felton Gables Emergency Preparedness Team went door to door, making connections with neighbors, providing information, encouraging household preparation efforts and learning more about the neighborhood's collective resources and vulnerabilities.

"We asked about people who might have special needs at home, such as the elderly, disabled or young infants, as well as special skills or tools people might be able to contribute," said Amundson, the team coordinator. "We also gave every home a gas shut-off wrench and together with the residents identified their gas, water and electrical shut-offs."

The census of 113 homes and about 300 residents was so detailed that the group even started a pet spreadsheet with the names, descriptions, ages, addresses and owner phone numbers of the neighborhood's 62 dogs and 28 cats.

The houses were organized under 16 block captains and co-captains, covering roughly eight houses in each "block." With the help of Atherton A.D.A.P.T., a volunteer disaster preparedness group, the Felton Gables team has held training sessions and drills (one including an ice cream social) and, most recently, raised contributions of $75 per household for the purchase of generators and other emergency assembly point equipment where people can gather, provide neighborhood safety and security services, and charge their cellphones and other equipment in a major disaster. The fundraising met with 90% participation, an amount that pleased the Felton Gables group.

"All that structure is available now that COVID-19 is upon us," Amundson said. "Though the COVID-19 pandemic is a very different crisis than the earthquake or other natural disaster being prepared for, the organizational efforts are paying off as block captains and many other neighbors are actively checking on their neighbors, running grocery and pharmacy errands for and otherwise helping others during the current shelter-in-place order."

It takes an emergency such as the advent of COVID-19 to bring people out of their separate lives. "When nothing is needed, emergency awareness goes into a soporific state," said Tom Prussing, president of A.D.A.P.T., the Atherton preparedness group, and secretary of the neighborhood group MPC Ready, a citywide, resident mutual-help organization. Now, with continuing management, those structures are available for "next time," more likely an earthquake or a flood.

Many are crediting Prussing with providing essential information and experience for these local organizations. He and A.D.A.P.T. have been sought out by local organizers of a number of communities.

"I reached out to Tom Prussing and he met with me at Cafe Borrone and impressed upon me the importance of survival," said Rebecca Grant, a founder and board member of the Sharon Oaks Emergency Preparedness Committee. "Up until then, our committee meetings had been about convenience — how to keep our refrigerators running, for example, which of course is not essential in an emergency," she said. "Tom worked with our six organized Sharon Oaks groups of about 15 homes each, with two to three co-coordinators for each group."

Prussing led training sessions for the residents, attended committee meetings, put together a shopping list for households' "emergency cache," and worked with the resident ham radio expert (an Eagle Scout) to plan an emergency drill for the community.

With that well-structured beginning from last year, the Sharon Oaks Emergency Preparedness Committee sprang into action earlier this month. "When COCID-19 hit, all it took was an email from the homeowner's association president Lori Cohen to the 18 group coordinators and the rest fell into place naturally. ... Questions and comments that bubbled up from the folks in their group were transmitted up our organization's chain of command," Grant said.

One of the smaller groups, at Marcussen Drive, has just 54 residential units but has, since 2010, kept a detailed roster of its residents. In times such as these organizers know who needs help, said Nancy Martin, who assembles annual get-togethers around Halloween, where kids come in costumes as adults accumulate information. "Now we send out notes telling people to look after each other," said Ms. Martin.

The largest of the Menlo Park groups covers the entire city and parts of the unincorporated county. MPC Ready is an umbrella organization headed by Lynne Bramlett and Debbie Hudson, who are co-chairs. MPC Ready rode a wave of serendipity when COVID-19 arrived. The group was just starting up as the disease emerged.

“You could see it coming with the epidemic in China. We used it,” said Bramlett. Within days of the organization’s founding in late November 2019, 100 people had held up their hands to be block coordinators, and these days it’s 150, including four members of the City Council: Mayor Cecilia Taylor, Ray Mueller, Catherine Carlton and Drew Combs, who all volunteered when Bramlett went to a council meeting and presented her plan.

Now, with the advent of COVID-19 , MPC Ready is urgently looking for more block co-ordinators for areas not currently organized by other groups. The goal is to cover all of Menlo Park with block and neighborhood coordinators. Volunteers can reach MPC Ready through its website.

While the very local organizations have sprung up largely without city help, they will eventually be fitted in with the MPC Ready network. “We haven’t talked to the city yet, and they haven’t talked to us,” said Amundson of Felton Gables.

“We residents know what’s happening around us and in the neighborhood,” said Barnum of Park Forest. However, ties with the MPC Ready system can be established to get the latest information when needed, he said.

Much of the structure and planning of the "official" organizations have been aimed at earthquake and flood disasters. However, the fire district is taking a cautious approach to the disease. On March 21, it announced that it had created a new two-person Emergency Response Unit. "Perhaps the first of its kind in the nation, this unit will only respond to all suspected COVID-19 incidents in the Fire District. As a result, hopefully only two personnel per day will come in direct contact with suspected COVID-19 patients," the district said in a press release.

Much of the structure and planning of the "official" organizations have been aimed at earthquake and flood disasters. However, the fire district is taking a cautious approach to the disease. On March 21, it announced that it had created a new two-person Emergency Response Unit. "Perhaps the first of its kind in the nation, this unit will only respond to all suspected COVID-19 incidents in the Fire District. As a result, hopefully only two personnel per day will come in direct contact with suspected COVID-19 patients," the district said in a press release.

Perhaps, the very nature of COVID-19 as an easily transmitted killer makes for the kind of invisible fear that brings people together. Beyond feelings of neighborhood warmth and cohesion lie worries that unusually strong neighborhood mutual support will be needed in the tough times ahead. The pandemic could go on for quite a while.

COVID-19 has yet to hit the neighborhoods that are now organizing. As such, "we have yet to see the wave," Amundson noted.

Bramlett estimates that it may be two or more weeks before first responders are able to offer the smoothly functioning services we expect in quieter times. Indeed, "In the weeks ahead," Carpenter said, "all levels of government will become more and more overburdened and less and less able to respond. As that happens, we will have to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. That requires organization. Now is the time to do that."

Frederick Rose is a retired senior writer for the Wall Street Journal. He lives in the Park Forest neighborhood of Menlo Park.

Comments

Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 6, 2020 at 2:17 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 6, 2020 at 2:17 pm
2 people like this

Why is the City of Menlo Park not yet utilizing these neighborhood organizations as a Covid 19 communication network as are Atherton and Palo Alto?


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