Los Altos nonprofit aims to bridge grocery gap for people in need

Rebecca Mathenia
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Rebecca Mathenia, a paraeducator for Vargas Elementary School in Sunnyvale, hands out groceries provided by the Assistance League of Los Altos Friday.

As a regular supporter of the Sunnyvale School District, the Assistance League of Los Altos planned to fund science camp scholarships for district students this year. The coronavirus rendered the camp impossible, but students and their families are now reaping the nonprofit’s help in even more meaningful manifestations: carrots, rice, pasta sauce and lentils. 

The Sunnyvale School District comprises 10 elementary and middle schools, and five of them receive Title 1 federal funding due to large concentrations of low-income students. These students normally benefit from lunches provided through A La Carte Silicon Valley, which collects surplus meals at area tech companies, and their families receive bi-weekly grocery allocations from Sunnyvale Community Services. But with so many companies closed due to the shelter-in-place orders, A La Carte Silicon Valley’s supply chain evaporated, and many families discovered they were suddenly in greater need than ever.

An informal survey of parents from San Miguel Elementary School, where 67% of students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, revealed more than 50% had already been laid off or furloughed by the first week of the school closures, said Christina Ballantyne, the principal there.

“There’s this kind of funneling of the need for more resources and also resources drying up,” she said.

Ballantyne asked Grace Pedersen, vice president of Assistance League programs, if the funds initially designated for the science camp could instead fund groceries every other week to supplement Sunnyvale Community Services’ continuing donations.

“Christina gave me a call as soon as she heard the news about closures,” Pedersen said. “We said, ‘Yes! Let’s do it.’ We did it very quickly. All our members are so supportive of this initiative.”

Now families from San Miguel Elementary, Bishop Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, Vargas Elementary and Columbia Middle School are benefitting every week from fresh produce and staples sourced from local markets. From March 20 through Friday, the Assistance League has distributed bags of groceries to more than 500 Sunnyvale School District families. Many have thanked the nonprofit through emails, letters and social media posts.

“They’re just grateful, and they can tell their kids, ‘We have food for this week,’ and they know what their meal is going to be,” Pedersen said.

It’s been a team effort to ensure every family has what it needs to survive right now, Ballantyne added.

“During this time, whether it’s Assistance League or our parent community, it’s been amazing to see how people come together to support each other. … We know things are hard and people are stressed – it’s a little scary,” she said. “I’m just really proud of our community.”

To assist the initiative financially and/or as a volunteer, email Grace Pederson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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