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Community

Community Services Agency sees need rise, help decline


Ellie Van houtte/ Town Crier
The Community Services Agency’s Food Nutrition Center provides residents in need with nutritious foods they could otherwise not afford.

Community Services Agency (CSA) Associate Director Maureen Wadiak has not only seen an increase in need locally – she’s seen the face of need become more diverse in 2013 as well.

While the agency has traditionally assisted working-poor individuals and families in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, a rise in the cost of housing (and other economic factors) has led to a recent increase in educated workers seeking help too, she noted.

“We’re seeing a lot of families being forced to relocate out of the area, and at the same time, we’re still serving more people than we did prior to the economic downturn,” she said.

The agency’s diverse population of need includes the likes of Jim, a 41-year-old unemployed semiconductor marketing and sales professional. Jim – whose name has been changed to protect his identity – said the allotment of food he receives from CSA’s Food Nutrition Center allows him to spend his limited funds on other living expenses.

“Food is very expensive, so the healthful food that they provide is something I appreciate a lot,” said Jim, who visits the organization’s Food Nutrition Center once or twice per week. “It’s definitely sufficient for me. I’m single, so I usually don’t take the allotment I’m allowed because if I take more than I need, it’s just going to go to waste. It’s not going to benefit someone else.”

“It’s an economic cushion,” Wadiak added. “Granted, we can’t be a grocery store, but we can certainly be that buffer that gives them a little bit of a cushion to absorb the increases in other things like rent.”

Referred to CSA through another Town Crier Holiday Fund recipient – RotaCare – Jim added that the organization’s food center stands out because of its focus on health.

“It’s really helpful – vegetables, rice, beans, things like that,” he said. “It’s the vegetables I value most.”

The agency’s 2012-2013 fiscal year saw a 4 percent year-over-year increase in clients at its Food Nutrition Center, which offers fresh and packaged food items donated by local stores and nonprofit organizations. Food donations, on the other hand, have remained largely stagnant – from approximately 545,000 items in 2010-2011 to a four-year low of 532,221 in 2012-2013.

Wadiak noted that the agency has experienced an increase in other areas of service, including a 30.4 percent bump in its rent and utility assistance program in the past fiscal year.

The high cost of living in Silicon Valley, she added, has also had a noticeable impact on older residents living on fixed incomes.

“We’ve always had – in the past few years – anywhere from three to five seniors relocating out of the area because of the high cost of housing on an annual basis,” said Wadiak, noting that the agency’s senior lunch and nutrition program saw a 25 percent increase in 2012-2013.

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