Technical glitches hampered a live attempt Oct. 1 at holding Community Services Agency’s annual “Hometown Heroes” awards, but organizers overcame the shortcomings to successfully produce a virtual event conveying warm messages of community support.
Time and again, staff, board members and volunteers of the venerable Mountain View-based social services agency expressed gratitude for residents’ overwhelming response during the pandemic.
“As everyone knows, the past year has brought some extraordinary challenges to our community, and we have all risen together to meet those challenges,” said Tom Myers, CSA executive director. “We should all be very, very proud to see the amazing ways that we’ve been able to watch our community really step up to the plate. Seeing that at CSA gave us so much inspiration and hope.”
The arrival of COVID-19 and subsequent shelter-in-place orders in March triggered mass layoffs that especially impacted small businesses and low-income workers. CSA, whose main mission is to provide food and shelter for vulnerable populations, was soon inundated with calls for help.
Requests for rental assistance skyrocketed, as did food demands.
“The demand for services has never been greater,” Myers said. “Aside from the very dire perils of the virus itself, many local residents were, continue to be and will be for a very long time faced with the loss of livelihood, increased risk of food insecurity, increased risk of homelessness, and much more. The unhoused and the senior populations of our community were particularly at risk of this potent virus.”
‘Heroes’ stand tall
But “heroes” emerged. This year, CSA honored the cities of Mountain View and Los Altos for their responses to the needs.
The agency also recognized Foothills Congregational Church of Los Altos and Los Altos resident Tom Smith for their years of support.
The Mountain View City Council provided $2.7 million in funding to help struggling renters pay their bills. CSA received an additional $1.2 million for donors, bringing the total to nearly $4 million for rent relief. The Los Altos City Council in April approved a $75,000 grant to CSA.
The two cities also aided struggling businesses. Mountain View, with help from Los Altos Community Foundation, provided funding for microgrants. Los Altos also contributed grants to help its small businesses.
“What’s been so gratifying for me, (is) so many folks come up asking how they can help,” said Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga in an interview with CSA. “I know we will rebound and rebound well, and come out in a better situation.”
Christopher Breedlove, pastor of Foothills Congregational, was featured in an interview in which he acknowledged the church’s long-standing partnership with CSA and joining forces to help the underserved. Both organizations were founded in 1957.
“It’s a natural fit and we feel very fortunate,” Breedlove said. “Our connection goes back a long way, since the conception of the church. … Pairing up with an organization like CSA is essential, one of the ways we can manifest our love for our community and put our faith to work. We don’t want to see people fall through the cracks. We can do more together than we can do by ourselves.”
His interview was followed by the church choir performing “Part of the Family.”
Smith is a longtime CSA volunteer. He joined the board in 2011 and served two four-year terms. He continues to serve on the agency’s audit committee. He said CSA “embodies the best community volunteerism and leadership.”
Although he was honored by the “Hometown Hero” designation, Smith said, “the real heroes are not myself – it’s the staff at CSA, their compassion and dedication in what they’re doing.”
Smith added that he has included CSA in his estate plan as a beneficiary, and encouraged others to do so as well.
In another part of the event, CSA’s Eonis Cibrian Pelayo, community and public relations coordinator, led a virtual tour of the agency’s offices as she discussed CSA’s focus on preventing homelessness, hunger and utility shut-offs.
She touched on such services as Dignity On Wheels – mobile units providing showers for the homeless – and little-known resources such as hygiene kits and bicycles for transportation.
CSA also delivers food to homebound residents. According to Cibrian Pelayo, the agency’s food pantry distributes an average of 6,000 pounds of produce and 4,000 pounds of dry goods every week. Foods are now prepackaged due to
Private industry also has contributed, organizers pointed out. The event’s major sponsors included LinkedIn Corp. and the El Camino Healthcare District. Google Inc., especially, has been involved in helping CSA for more than 10 years, Myers said. In addition to contributing money, Google employees have volunteered hundreds of hours at the agency.
Mountain View resident Jocelyn Baird, a member of a young professionals group at CSA, said of her decision to volunteer: “What spoke to me about CSA – it connected with the heart of the community.”
CSA staff estimated that more than 500 volunteers helped at the agency over the past year.
One final “hero” had to be recognized: Myers himself, much to his surprise.
“Thank you for leadership during a time of great uncertainty,” said CSA board president Rose Baldwin. “You keep a firm hold of the helm with dignity and grace.”
Baldwin called Myers “a community treasure.”
Myers said he was “surprised and flummoxed” by the honor.
“Thanks to Rose and the whole board – it means a great deal to me,” he said. “This is an agency I love, the incredible work we do for the incredible community we live in.”
For more information on CSA, visit csacares.org.
To watch the “Hometown Heroes” event, click here.