CSA brightens Christmas for the working poor
Food, toys, rent money helps those in need during holiday season
It's a cold Sunday morning and Angelica Murillo has waited an hour and 15 minutes in a line that stretches outside of the Community Services Agency on Stierlin Road.
She's handed a large bag and led upstairs to several rooms full of donated gifts. For each of her three young children, she's able to take one of each: toys, books, games, stuffed animals, pajamas and stocking stuffers. She walks out with a bag packed with 18 gifts to brighten Christmas morning, gifts she could not afford on her husband's income as a landscaper.
"The more they see, the more excited they get," Murilla said of her kids, aged 2, 5 and 7, on Christmas morning.
Murillo is one of 1,000 local residents who are helped by the CSA's annual Holiday exchange program, which distributes donated Christmas gifts for children. The CSA is one of seven non-profits that will share funds raised by the Voice Holiday Fund this year.
"The key to (the Holiday exchange) program is understanding that it's not about the donor giving the gift to the child," said CSA executive director Tom Myers. "It's really about empowering the adults to be able to give gifts to the children. One of the most important ways you can help to break the cycle of poverty in a family is to give that family dignity and self respect. And it doesn't really give that family dignity and self respect if it is a donor giving a child a toy and it's bypassing the parents."
The gift exchange is one way the non-profit and its 600 volunteers are a part of the area's social safety net, providing services not provided elsewhere, including the soon-to-be-shuttered county social services building across the street.
"The government does provide welfare checks, food stamps," Myers said. "We provide a lot of services they just don't provide, like our food center."
Over 5,000 residents make regular use of the CSA's food pantry, a sort of grocery store of donated food on the first floor of the building. Food banks, grocery stores, local businesses and school kids are among those that collect the food. Recently, the students of Santa Rita school collected 7,000 pounds of food to donate to CSA. One million dollars worth of food is distributed by the agency every year, reported as a third of the CSA's $3 million annual revenue, Myers said.
There's a slew of other programs: a lunch program for seniors, one-time help with rent for families on the verge of becoming homeless. There's a program that has helped hundreds of seniors live at home instead of in nursing homes. The chronically homeless are also helped with housing in a new "housing first" approach that relies less on shelters and more on subsidized housing. Volunteers have reached out to those living in homeless encampments in Mountain View, Myers said.
Myers says most of those who use the CSA's services are from Mountain View and Los Altos, which have a surprising number of seniors scraping by on fixed incomes, he said. CSA's clients are screened by a social worker to determine their financial needs.
The recession has hit the CSA with a "double whammy" Myers said. While needs are greater, the CSA has seen a decline in donations.
"The thing we're finding that is having the biggest impact on our clients is that rents are so high right now and continue to go up," Myers said. "Rents are astronomically high right now."
The CSA collects food and items for the holiday gift exchange year round.
To donate to the CSA though the Voice Holiday Fund, visit the Holiday Fund web page at siliconvalleycf.org/mvv-holiday-fund.
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org