Lending a helping hand
Coastside Hope volunteers load boxes of food to deliver to Bloom Lane residents on Thursday. Photo courtesy Katie Sanborn

As the number of Covid-19 cases climbed, commercial businesses shut down and Coastsiders limited their trips out of home. Others, however, were still serving some of their neediest neighbors.

Within the last week, Coastside Hope, which provides local families and individuals in need with basic life necessities such as food, rental assistance and unemployment assistance, experienced a surge in requests for support.

“We’re providing essential services,” said Judith Guerrero, Coastside Hope’s executive director. “By us being open, the community is coping a little better with the fear and panic.”

Guerrero expects increased requests for rental assistance from people laid off or whose employers are unable to provide sick leave. She also expects more requests for help filing for unemployment. Complicating matters for some families: “some won’t be able to apply for unemployment because of their legal (immigration) status. Rent will be the biggest concern,” she said.

An essential part of the safety net is the agency’s two primary food distribution programs. Working in conjunction with Second Harvest, Family Harvest provides groceries monthly to families with dependent children. Brown Bag provides groceries every other week to residents of MidPen senior housing.

Traditionally, both programs have provided an open-market arrangement, where clients browse and select from among dry goods, protein and produce as volunteers provide support and guidance. Now, in an effort to protect clients, staff and volunteers, Coastside Hope is recruiting younger volunteers and turning Family Harvest into drive-through and Brown Bag into a delivery service, at least for the duration of the stay-at-home orders.

At Family Harvest food distribution on Thursday, volunteers kept their distance from each other as they milled about waiting for clients to come pick up pre-packaged boxes – one each of dry goods, protein and produce. When a family drove up, gloved volunteers swiftly loaded three pre-packed boxes into their cars and stepped back. Most of the volunteers were new to Coastside Hope’s volunteer squad, motivated to helping out during this time.

Basilio Rico Serrano, a second-year student studying sociology at College of San Mateo, said, “I realize how many people need help, and I want to do what I can do to help others.”

JoJo Van Dyke, who was volunteering for Coastside Hope for the first time last Thursday after both of his jobs were hit by the stay-at-home order, said he is putting into practice what his mother taught him. “My mom is a single mother who raised me to volunteer with Second Harvest. She would be here if she could, but she has an impacted immune system.”

Ray De La Cadena volunteered after his own job in a local hotel was affected. “What’s happening now is critical. We have to help everyone,” he said.

De La Cadena was also on hand a few days later at to help distributing Brown Bag boxes of food to MidPen seniors. The call for volunteers that had gone out from Second Harvest and Coastside Hope resulted in more than a dozen volunteers, among them students and other young adults, coming out on a chilly overcast day to carry 130 boxes of groceries to individual residents’ apartments. Instructed to sanitize their hands and don food service gloves, the volunteers organized boxes, loaded them on carts or hand trucks and took them around, knocking on doors and waving to residents.

One volunteer who was not on hand was Veronica Newbeck, a Bloom Lane resident who normally helps set up tables for Brown Bag and is also a client of the program. For Newbeck, who has lived at Bloom Lane since 2015, volunteering has been a social outlet. “We’d go set up the chairs and talk and laugh,” she said. “(Coastside Hope) is helping us, so we help them, and we help (other residents,) too.” Now, however, everyone has to adjust, and she understands. “You just can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing,” she said.

Sanborn is an El Granada resident and a family member of regular Coastside Hope volunteers.

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