Braving the downpour on Sunday morning, Dec. 11, a line of at least 50 people stretched from the Belle Haven Library down the block of Ivy Drive, standing under rain-weighted canopies to take a COVID-19 test.
On one of her last days as Menlo Park's mayor, Cecilia Taylor stood under an umbrella and directed people where to go. (Drew Combs was selected as mayor several days later at the City Council's annual reorganization meeting.)
At the front of the line, entire families followed the protocols to take the self-administered oral swab tests offered by the testing company Curative through a partnership with San Mateo County.
Young and old, with instructions given in Spanish and English, those being tested coughed three times, swirled a swab around their mouths for 20 seconds, deposited the swab in a tube, and handed over the sample for analysis.
The testing site might not have existed without the efforts of Belle Haven Action, a community-based organization that works to support the Menlo Park neighborhood east of Highway 101.
The initiative came about after the county put out a request for proposals and Belle Haven Action offered to oversee the neighborhood testing process, according to Taylor, who is a founder of Belle Haven Action.
Belle Haven Action recruited, organized and trained paid volunteers from around the neighborhood – some of whom are under- or unemployed due to the pandemic, and some of whom have medical backgrounds – to operate the testing sites.
Before this initiative, there hasn't been testing offered in Belle Haven, only in nearby neighborhoods in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks, Taylor said.
Now, testing sites also move around the neighborhood, rotating between the Belle Haven Library on Sundays, the Onetta Harris Community Center and Cummings Park Church at 531 Pierce Road. They also provide private testing at Sequoia Belle Haven, which offers affordable housing to low-income seniors.
Testing times often align with other community events to promote walk-up testing, such as on Second Harvest food distribution days at Onetta Harris and the drive-thru farmers market, which is held Sunday mornings in the driveway of the Belle Haven Library.
The paid volunteers now number around a dozen and provide oversight on the self-administered oral swab tests by Curative.
The tests are funded through San Mateo County and insurance – people's insurance companies are billed for the tests, but if they do not have insurance, the costs are covered with federal funds, so they are free for everyone.
"We encourage people to bring the whole family out to get tested," Taylor said.
While some people have come from as far away as Richmond or San Francisco to access testing, many are neighborhood residents, she said.
It helps people feel more comfortable to have familiar faces staffing the testing sites, Taylor said. "If your neighbor is helping to do neighborhood testing, (you know that) this is a safe place to come."
Site coordinator German Pech, who is a Belle Haven resident, said Sunday that he lives around the block from the testing site and is a youth church leader at Cummings Park Church. His niece, Sara Bautista, was also volunteering, and helped to provide bilingual instructions on how to administer the tests.
Another volunteer from the neighborhood, Brigith Babb, operated station guiding people through the testing process. "It's a good experience for me ... helping in the community," she said.
The Almanac spoke with members of several households seeking testing, who provided various explanations for why they were there. Helen Piekos of Palo Alto and children Estelle and Charles Dufour were there because one of their teachers had tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic.
Belle Haven resident Daniel Guzman brought student Lilley Nava because they had tried unsuccessfully to get testing through their doctors and heard that the neighborhood testing was free. Guzman said they "just wanted to be on the safe side" before Nava played with other kids.
Merna Reyes of Redwood City said she saw the event on Facebook and wanted to be tested after being exposed to someone who had tested positive.
Alongside the neighborhood testing, which runs through the end of the year, Taylor said that she's hoping to also provide families that receive testing with additional support, such as gift cards and food, to enable them to stay home while they await results.
Access the testing schedule here.