Although Los Altos and surrounding areas are affluent communities, not every local resident can afford life’s basic necessities, including food – particularly around the holidays.
“Last year, I wouldn’t have been able to have a turkey to share with my family,” said Barbara, a mother of two originally from Los Altos who found support from the Food and Nutrition Center at the Community Services Agency (CSA) when she encountered unexpected life challenges. “What’s Thanksgiving without a turkey? I can’t imagine the disappointment.”
The Food and Nutrition Center plays a pivotal role in making the holidays brighter for local families in need. LaDrea Clark, nutrition and health education assistant, said the center distributed 600 turkeys and boxes of packaged and fresh food for Thanksgiving this year – fulfilling its mission to serve as a year-round safety net for Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View.
In addition to its food store, where people can select fresh and packaged foods donated by local stores and farms, CSA’s 14 programs support clients with emergency housing assistance, medications, computer access, social services and staff referrals to partner organizations in the community.
Poverty is frequently associated with less affluent communities or more urban environments, but CSA Executive Director Tom Myers said there are more people struggling with basic needs in the area than one might expect.
“There are pockets of poverty that are often invisible,” he said.
According to Myers, in any given year, the center serves an estimated 400 homeless people in Mountain View and Los Altos.
“We have people who never in their wildest dreams could imagine coming to us,” he said.
In addition to the working poor and homeless, CSA also serves young people, seniors, widows, women in domestic violence situations and people who encounter job loss, health problems or other unexpected circumstances.
Elba Landaverde, CSA emergency assistance program director, attributed the growing need in the community to the economic downturn and the cost of living in Silicon Valley. Her team handles approximately 120 emergency cases per week, including a growing number of domestic violence situations that leave people financially vulnerable and in need of housing and other support services.
She added that helping people makes her feel her work matters.
“I was ashamed at first. … I had a great job,” said Barbara, noting how difficult it was to admit her need for CSA services. “It’s not something you want to do.”
The staff’s kindness and respect was humbling, said Barbara, adding that CSA’s support was a lifesaver for her family during the experience.
“I’m so grateful for the little things,” she said.