Local charities adapt to COVID-19 while maintaining holiday spirit

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Andrew Tolu

People wait in line to pick up food provided by Samaritan House on a busy afternoon.

With the holiday season already underway and the pandemic in full swing, charities have had to massively increase their capacity to serve their communities due to the influx of people requiring their services.

Experts from Feeding America estimate that the number of Americans with food insecurity will increase from 35 million to about 50 million due to COVID-19. Charities across the country are working to diminish this number and bring food to those in need, including local food banks like Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, and local nonprofits like Samaritan House of San Mateo County.

Bart Charlow is the CEO of Samaritan House, a local nonprofit fighting poverty by helping provide food, shelter, clothing, financial empowerment services, along with health care services to those in need.

“We can’t allow people in our building, so we had to work on everything being offered online or via remotely accessible. All of our 12 ways of delivering food before the pandemic have been consolidated into the drive-through, no contact kinds of distribution. The health care clinics had to change their operation for complete safety. Every way you can think of it, we’ve had to alter the way we deliver services,” Charlow said.

Many people, including teens, are choosing to volunteer to help their community through these troubled times. The local nonprofits greatly need the help, as they are gearing up to face their busiest time of the year, which has been made more challenging with the pandemic raging. Despite the troubles, local nonprofits are trying to preserve the holiday spirit to uplift those struggling.

Charlow stressed his nonprofit’s commitment to the community and noted that charities could do a lot more for people than just providing basic needs and services. 

Pullquote Photo

Samaritan House is in the business of feeding people’s souls as well as their bodies. It’s because people need hope in order to hang on, in order to organize their thoughts instead of running around scared, in order to learn to cooperate with one another so that they can leverage what resources are limited that may be available, hope is extremely important.  The holidays are a time of hope for people.”

— Bart Charlow

Andrew Ynes, a sophomore, is one of the many teens who stepped up to help his community during the holidays and is a frequent volunteer at numerous nonprofit organizations.

He said of his experience volunteering, “I’ve had people who start bawling tears of joy when we give them food, and they know it’s free. There are people who really do need it. I think that has a really big impact. And the more, the merrier. The more people that know about this, the more food that’s donated, the more people are able to come and pick up food. It just makes it all worth it, and it’s really nice to see how it impacts people.”

Another teen, sophomore Ava Taylor, has stepped up during the pandemic and explained that she saw an increase in volunteers during her shifts. 

“I think that because more people are aware that this is a time when people need our help, they want to try and help and give more food to donate to them,” Taylor said. 

For nonprofits, the holidays are commonly a hectic time of year. Samaritan House expanded its services to provide a sit-down meal, which became a drive-through service this year. Second Harvest Food Bank worked harder than ever to accommodate almost twice the amount of people they are normally used to serving and expects to see the effects of this increase last for another 12-18 months minimum. Along with this extreme change, they had to eliminate their system of letting people peruse and pick their produce, as they selected a safer option of delivering pre-packaged food.

Local charities are trying to preserve the magic of the holidays through their services. Samaritan House also adds special facilities by providing families in need with gift cards, although they have had to forgo their standard toy delivery. Second Harvest Food Bank incorporates chicken and turkey into their menu to give people an authentic holiday meal. Charities are finding innovative ways to maintain safety during this pandemic, such as creating virtual programs and launching home delivery solutions.

“This is a time when it is important for folks to remember that we’re all in this together, the people around you are having a very hard time and that a little extra care. That can lift their spirits,” Charlow said.

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