Nonprofits rising to challenge amid community lockdown

Mergan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Nadja Jackson, Block Action Team project manager for Los Altos Community Foundation, places bags of celery on a table for Community Services Agency clients Friday. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, employees of CSA temporarily moved their pantry operation into the Mountain View nonprofit’s parking lot.

The shelter-in-place directive is not only impacting restaurants and retailers, it’s also hurting local nonprofit groups in a variety of ways.

For Community Services Agency, the social service nonprofit serving residents of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, the demand is rising as the number of volunteers decreases.

For Mountain View-based CSA, the main challenge has been maintaining programs amid diminished resources.

“It’s just crazy – we’re on overdrive right now,” said Los Altos resident Tom Myers, CSA’s executive director. “Virtually every CSA program has had to be modified or reinvented to make sure that we do our best to protect our staff, volunteers and clients, while making sure that we continue to provide food and other vital safety-net services to those who are in need.”

Changes include suspension of food pantry services on Mondays and Wednesdays for pre-bagging, and a move to pre-bagged food distribution on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Myers had 15 volunteers in CSA’s food program before the lockdown, all older adults. That count went to zero with the order to shelter in place. But an increasing number of people have made inquiries about volunteering, he said.

“We are still in need of volunteers, particularly if you are outside of high-risk categories,” Myers said.

The need for food has risen, as have requests for rental assistance – an outcome of layoffs in the service sector.

Speaking remotely to the Los Altos City Council at its March 17 meeting, Myers noted that the “service sector and the gig economy is going to be devastated.”

CSA’s big challenge for Los Altos, Myers said, is serving secluded seniors. The city’s closure of its senior center and senior nutrition center spurred an increase in Los Altos seniors who need CSA services. This means volunteers checking on elderly neighbors.

Hygiene for the homeless also presents a problem, Myers said. CSA is working with Santa Clara County to increase handwashing stations and portable toilets for the homeless as more facilities close.

“Bottom line, we’re going to see the number of big stressors on the agency coming up – new financial stressors – as we try to keep up, as well as capacity stressors,” he said.

In addition to able-bodied volunteers, donations are welcome.

“We’ll need donations because services are in more demand,” Myers said. “We’re going to take a financial hit.”

To volunteer and for more information, call 968-0836 or visit

CHAC steps up

“We are stepping up to the plate,” declared Marsha Deslauriers, executive director of the Community Health Awareness Council. “We will get through this crisis together.”

The longtime Mountain View-based nonprofit, which offers counseling services to children and families, is switching to “tele-health services” during the course of the shelter-in-place directive. The in-person clinic on El Camino Real is closed.

Deslauriers said therapists in the school districts CHAC serves, including the Los Altos School District and the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, are contacting current clients directly. CHAC serves 3,000 clients in the schools and another 1,000 through its in-house clinic.

On-site school services are suspended as schools remain closed.

CHAC’s staff of approximately 130 is working from home, communicating via phone and video, Deslauriers said.

“We went into crisis response mode with changes almost daily,” she said. “We’re pivoting to an entirely new service delivery model.”

After maintaining current clients, Deslauriers said CHAC will assess capacity for more clients.

Deslauriers noted that children out of school and parents out of work can trigger financial stress, a sense of isolation, even child abuse.

“It’s extremely hard on parents,” she said. “Parents are changing their roles very quickly. The immediacy of the changes is adding an excruciating level of stress.”

CHAC’s website,, will include updates on services as well as offer a list of resources for parenting tips, reducing anxiety and staying healthy.

“Keep in mind that increased stress can diminish our immune systems,” the nonprofit’s website urged online visitors.

For those experiencing a mental health crisis, Deslauriers urged them to call the Santa Clara County crisis line at (855) 278-4204 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Music for Minors pivots

The nonprofit Music for Minors, founded in Los Altos more than 40 years ago, has long centered on training and providing docents to elementary school classrooms around the Bay Area to offer music education not usually included in regular school curricula.

With schools closed indefinitely, Music for Minors has pivoted to online instruction.

“We are working on a virtual way to provide kids and families access to our materials,” said Sonja Wohlgemuth, executive director. “Fortunately, we built our amazing content technology platform over the past six years. … Our other critical area is taking care of our 50-plus teaching artists who have lost work.”

Wohlgemuth added that Music for Minors would consider joining with other nonprofits to engage in “crisis relief funding … needed now more than ever. We could all submit our challenges, our internal measures to solve problems, and then tell folks how they can help.”

She said Music for Minors staff is “up to the current challenges ahead.”

For more information on Music for Minors, visit

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