Community

A year into pandemic, CSA members reflect on unprecedented response

As the one-year mark nears since the first shelter-in-place order in Santa Clara County, the Community Services Agency team shared some highlights, challenges and successes from an unusual year.

“CSA, the county and the cities of Mountain View and Los Altos – along with incredible volunteers and supporters – engaged in a heroic effort keeping people housed and fed during the pandemic,” said CSA executive director Tom Myers. “It’s pretty remarkable what this community was able to do, and the collective generosity has been incredible.”

While the pandemic has not yet ended and continues to impact the area’s most vulnerable residents, Myers said there are some “glimmers of hope,” but there will still be much to do in the future.

“Life didn’t just pause last March,” said Eonis Cibrian Pelayo, community and public relations coordinator. “Many of our clients continue to have real, everyday fears on top of the pandemic – whether due to their economic or migratory status or other concerns.”

To keep clients and other constituents apprised of up-to-the-minute news impacting programs and services at CSA and beyond, Cibrian Pelayo said the agency introduced a weekly video log issued Mondays and posted on its Facebook page.

Other milestones since March 17, 2020:

• CSA gained 1,300 new client households, up from an average of 200 in a typical year.

• CSA’s Food & Nutrition Center and Senior Nutrition Program pivoted to outdoor/drive-thru services to feed the community. On average, nearly 200 seniors now pick up lunch each weekday, up from approximately 130 pre-pandemic. Additionally, CSA is delivering groceries to roughly 70 senior households each week.

• The Rental Assistance Program ramped up quickly, serving more than 1,000 households, many with up to three months’ rent. More than $4 million has been devoted to rent relief, in partnership with the city of Mountain View and other supporters.

• The newly launched COVID Positive Relief Team, which delivers groceries and supplies to those diagnosed with COVID so they can safely quarantine at home, has served 96 households.

Growing need

The need for expanded services became evident amid the public health crisis.

“When the pandemic began, it quickly became evident that food service programs like ours were needed more than ever,” said Food & Nutrition Center director Christine Flego. “Almost overnight, our services went from an indoor market to a pre-bagged food distribution outdoors, pitching tents and tables in our parking lot. Even with kinks in supply chains resulting in limited quantities from time to time, the FNC pushed out over 600,000 pounds of food over the year – almost 50% of that in fresh produce.”

Over the past year, Flego added, CSA has seen the faces behind the masks coming through its doors change as well.

“We saw the decline in the number of seniors coming onsite for groceries, so we joined forces with our Senior Services case managers to increase food delivery to these homebound clients, seeing the number of deliveries almost double weekly,” she said. “We also saw a number of people standing in line for food for the first time, people that before this pandemic would not have been counted among the food insecure.”

CSA relies on a volunteer force of more than 500 people to help carry out its safety-net services. According to volunteer coordinator LaDrea Clark, among the challenges presented by the pandemic were scheduling volunteers to help with food distribution, picking up groceries from the agency’s food partners and delivering meals to clients who were advised by the county’s Public Health Department to stay at home.

“Many of our regular volunteers are retirees, ages 55 and above, who were also impacted by the shelter-in-place orders,” she said. “With many now being vaccinated, we hope to welcome them back soon, along with new volunteers who came on board over the year and others who have inquired about volunteer opportunities.”

For more information on CSA and its response to the COVID crisis, visit csacares.org.
To volunteer, call Clark at 964-4630.

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