Samaritan House offers comfort during cold months


Samaritan House Development Team

Supported by the work of thousands of volunteers annually, Samaritan House provides assistance and resources for people in need in the community.

As the sky turns a cloudy grey and the temperature rapidly drops, one thing’s for certain: the winter season is coming. But while some set their tables for a Thanksgiving feast and hang up winter lights, many others are left cold, hungry, or without a home. 

Fortunately, nonprofit organizations such as Samaritan House, located in San Mateo, work to support people in need. Fueled by community donations and volunteer work, Samaritan House provides its clients with food, housing, financial aid, and more.

As the winter holidays creep closer, the ever-growing need for these supports only deepens, and Samaritan House is there to provide them.

“We see way more volunteers this time of the year for the holidays – people are helping with our toy distribution, with Thanksgiving, or with running a drive. It’s our busy season,” said Jenny Saba, the associate director of volunteering and engagement at Samaritan House.

Along with year-round programs that include food services, housing and shelter, financial empowerment, health and dental, children’s programs, and more, Samaritan House has several holiday programs, according to Saba. Through Halloween costume collections, Thanksgiving food drives, and holiday gift collections, community members step up and volunteer their time to help those in need.

“The highest it’s gotten has been up to 4,000 volunteers annually,” Saba said. “We’ve definitely seen that decline since COVID-19, though.”

Like most organizations, Samaritan House took a hit during the pandemic. Not only did the number of volunteers decrease, but their number of clients doubled, according to Constance La Trice Taylor, the associate director of programs and services.

“When COVID-19 hit, persons who would not normally have ever needed a safety net have now needed the safety net. Many households have been impacted, including people who had never had to ask for help before,” La Trice Taylor said.

The number of people served by Samaritan House’s food programs has increased from 1.5 million people pre-pandemic to nearly 3 million people now, according to La Trice Taylor. 

In 2021, the number of mental healthcare services provided increased by 165%, according to the Samaritan House 2021 annual report. Around 25,000 clients were served during COVID-19, compared to only 15,000 clients pre-pandemic, the 2021 annual report found. 

These have been trying times for everyone; people have lost their jobs and homes, and recovering is not a simple task. 

Year-round, clients of Samaritan House primarily need food and financial aid, so the organization has a number of food support programs, including grocery delivery services. 

But as cold weather blows in once more, the focus is shifting to helping people make it through the winter season fully clothed, fed, and feeling festive. 

Samaritan House by Kate Ridgway

“For Halloween, we do costume giveaways. When school started, we did a backpack giveaway. People are already registering to get their food the week of Thanksgiving, and the same thing will come for Christmas,” La Trice Taylor said. 

With enough donations and hours of hard work by volunteers, Samaritan House strives to ensure everyone feels at home for the holidays.

Some Samaritan House volunteers are Carlmont students. Thomas Banner-Haimes, for example, is a senior at Carlmont who has worked with the organization in the past.

Most of the time, I would work with wheeling out the carts to cars and loading them in, so I could clearly see the impact it had on people,” Banner-Haimes said. “You could really see other people were positively affected by your work, and that was something that really made it a great experience.”

Sophomore Monika Mukerji is another Carlmont student that has helped out. She described how she and her friend donated cookies, trail mix, journals, and colored pencils a few years ago.

“Working with Samaritan House was a really fun experience, and I’d never donated before until I took the initiative and the dedication to donate things, both homemade and store-bought. It was really nice to give something to people who are less fortunate than I am,” Mukerji said. 

Volunteer work is, at its core, everyday people working together to bring positive change to the lives of others, something that is needed more than ever during the winter months.

“We believe in partnership and working together,” La Trice Taylor said. “Because if we don’t, then our community could fail.”