Holiday Spirit

Community Service Agency volunteer Steve Loo places food on a table for a client to grab in the nonprofit's parking lot on Nov. 19. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted November 25, 2020

In a time of crisis, CSA steps up to the plate
Community Services Agency offers a safety net for Mountain View's hungry, unemployed and homeless residents

by Kevin Forestieri

For the last eight months, Mountain View's social safety net has been stretched to its absolute limit.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Community Services Agency (CSA), the nonprofit charged with helping the city's neediest residents, suddenly faced an unprecedented challenge. Thousands of families were out of work and struggling to pay rent, seniors were isolated at home and the city's homeless population -- already in poor health -- were at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

That demand has been relentless and shows no sign of slowing any time soon, with a huge spike in new cases going into the holiday season. And with federal aid locked up by the Senate's inaction and regional assistance stretched thin, it has largely fallen to local cities and nonprofits to help needy residents weather the storm.

CSA and the city have done a commendable job so far in trying to keep people housed and fed during the pandemic, said Tom Myers, the nonprofit's executive director. But he worries that many families that have lost work will be facing eviction next year, and by then donors and volunteers alike will be too exhausted to keep up the pace.

"We live in a very generous community, but I am fearful that people will become fatigued by all the need that is surrounding us," Myers said. "And as we navigate into 2021, we need to be mindful that the needs will only increase."

CSA is one of seven nonprofit organizations serving Mountain View residents that benefit from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund . Donations to the fund are divided equally among the nonprofits and are administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation at no cost, so 100% of contributions go to the recipients.

CSA's role in the community changed virtually overnight, when the county's stay-at-home orders caused the service sector and the gig economy to collapse and unemployment to skyrocket, Myers said. Priorities quickly shifted towards rent relief for those at risk of displacement, which meant rapid new hires and a new system to handle a crush of requests. CSA has since issued more than 1,500 checks to needy families, each one averaging $2,046 in assistance.

Though the city of Mountain View has poured huge sums of cash into the program and has leaned on CSA to help residents stay housed during the pandemic, individual donors still play a huge role, Myers said. The biggest part of CSA's annual budget is support from private donors, which can be spent with far more flexibility. CSA dumped $1.2 million of its own money into the rent relief program and started cutting checks well before the city contributed, he said.

More recently, CSA has helped families with so-called "rapid response" assistance, providing money to those who couldn't normally afford to isolate and quarantine for 14 days when required under public health orders. Unlike rent relief, the rapid response does not have a robust, dedicated funding source just yet.

"Two weeks without any income coming in can devastate a family, and frankly that program is going to require some funding as well," Myers said.

Meanwhile, CSA's food pantry services are more popular than ever, with lines around the block for each week, and the senior nutrition program at the Mountain View Senior Center is feeding more residents than ever before. Even though dine-in services at the senior center are gone and replaced by take-away meals, Myers said participation has skyrocketed to nearly 200 meals per day. Funding for the program comes from Santa Clara County, but there are signs that money may be scaled back .

It hasn't been an easy transition helping clients during a pandemic, Myers said. The face-to-face interactions with clients, the welcoming lobby of CSA's headquarters and the hand selection of free groceries are all off-limits or severely curtailed in order to keep people safe. Newcomers who never thought they'd need to rely on a food pantry or ask for rental assistance are either getting help over the phone, Myers said, or talking to someone outside where it's neither warm nor friendly.

"It's not in an office, it's not quiet, it's not safe like that," he said. "And that kills me."

CSA has typically stayed out of politics and lobbying for public policies, even when the outcome is sure to have an impact on the nonprofit. It stayed out of the city's debate over RV parking prohibitions , and does not touch controversial issues like rent control. Yet Myers parted ways with that philosophy earlier this year in calling on the city to extend its moratorium on evictions earlier this year.

Even after handing out all those checks, Myers said he still believes Mountain View could still headed towards an eviction time bomb once statewide eviction protections run out and past unpaid rent becomes due. Many families were struggling to pay the bills even before COVID-19, and it's difficult to discern if all of the city's efforts have made the difference.

"The effort that has been done so far has been fantastic, and it's an effort that we can all be very proud of," Myers said. "But is it going to be enough? That's a giant question mark, and to be honest with you, I am as scared as anyone about the looming eviction crisis."

Another casualty of the pandemic will be this year's toy drive. Instead of accepting donated toys for the holiday season and having families visit to pick out gifts, CSA will be doling out gift cards instead. Hosting a toy store and having people shop in-person was seen as too dangerous, whereas gift cards can empower families to buy gifts that best suit them and their children.

Thanksgiving will still have special holiday food, but it will all be bagged for clients ahead of time.

If COVID-19 proved anything, Myers said, it's that CSA is the reliable social safety net for Mountain View that can be leveraged in a time of crisis, and that cities without a nonprofit like CSA are currently at a huge disadvantage. But it's going to take more help to keep up the pace, and no letting up as the pandemic progresses into 2021.

"We want to make sure we're in a place where we can continue to step up to the plate, because there are too many people who need our assistance," Myers said.

Make a donation
2021 Recipient Agency

Community Health Awareness Council
CHAC serves Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and seven school districts. Among the services it offers are schoolbased counseling and programs to protect students from high-risk behaviors.

Community School of Music & Arts
The Community School of Music and Arts provides hands-on art and music education in the classrooms of the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Community Services Agency
CSA is the community's safety-net providing critical support services for low-income individuals and families, the homeless and seniors in northern Santa Clara County, including Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Day Worker Center of Mountain View
The Day Worker Center of Mountain View provides a secure place for workers and employers to negotiate wages and work conditions. It serves workers with job placements, English lessons, job skills workshops and guidance.

Mayview Community Health Center
The MayView Community Health Center in Mountain View offers primary care services to low-income and uninsured patients in northern Santa Clara County. No patient is turned away for inability to pay for services, which include prenatal and pediatric care, cancer screenings and chronic disease management.

Mentor Tutor Connection
Mentor Tutor Connection matches adult volunteers who serve either as mentors with under-served youth in high school or as tutors to students in elementary and middle schools in Mountain View and Los Altos school districts.

YWCA of Silicon Valley
This group operates a 24-hour bilingual hotline and a safe shelter for women and their children. It also offers counseling and other services for families dealing with domestic violence.

As of January 26, 2020
138 donors have contributed $79,760 to
the Mountain View Voice Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld

19 Anonymous6,645
Anne Johnston150
Ellen Wheeler50
Kathleen Cutler*
Bruce Karney500
Edward Perry200
Kathleen & Sergey Bonte150
Tom & Barbara Lustig*
Thomas J. Mucha350
Michael A. Tugendreich200
Robert Rohrbacher*
Margaret Chapman100
Heather Cowper100
Patricia Larenas500
Sally B. Evans500
Ed Taub108
Jeanne Elam200
Linda Catura1,000
Marilyn Gildea100
Herbert Perry100
Herta Schreiner100
Diana Hall50
Daniel Kelly1,000
Emma Wong500
Leslie C. & Anita N. Nichols*
Catherine Howard150
Melissa Jankowski150
Jill Bertrand300
Lori Abrahamsohn50
Jeff Segall & Helen He200
Kevin & Robin Duggan*
Norma Jean Bodey Galiher200
Jim & Alice Cochran700
Lyle & Sally Sechrest100
Brian & Marilyn Smith*
Susan Elliott Russell1,000
Wesley D. Smith*
Andy & Liz Coe100
Crystal Chow200
Paul & Sarah Donahue2,000
Erik & Ankita Kaulberg*
Elizabeth Swierk200
John Baya & Rose Han250
Kathleen Creger500
Kristina Sandoval100
Gary & Yuko Kushner*
Josh Switkes & Meg Kelly1,000
Kevin & Laurel Smith1,000
Judy Atterholt & Chris Petti100
Randa Mulford250
Lora Henderson50
Vivi Naumovski100
Samantha Knox100
Feng Zhou8,000
R. Lanier Anderson &
Katherine A. Preston500
Robert & Lois Adams500
E. Denley Rafferty100
Gail Nyhan & Dave Offen*
David Fung*
Sarah Campbell100
Janet Jarmann30
Ross Heitkamp350
R D Roode150
Kanan Krishnan250
Ellis Berns100
Janet Sloan & Peter Stahl2,000
Donna Davies800
Dianne Chambliss700
Karen Skold100
John Igoe100
Patricia Hayes100
Leona K. Chu*
Pamela Baird1,000
Julie Steury & Peter Reynolds500
Sherleen Ong500
Scott Haber50
Sheri Morrison*
Laura Blakely100
Jon Burns250
Marilyn & James Kelly100
Cliff & Kara Chambers1,000
The Burtin Family*
Jeral Poskey250
Christopher Chiang*
Michael Kahan150
David & Karen Keefer200
Randy Robinson200
Karen DeMello100
Joel Riciputi*
Ann Kapoun200
J Steury500
K. Hayes Family2,000
Sara Jenez*
Bruce Lin1,337
Steve Attinger500
Yiping Liao150
Ronald Nakao50
Max Beckman-Harned700
Diane Nanis50
Sanna Wager500
Elisabeth Seaman750
In Memory Of

Mack & Laila Holombo400
Ken & Arlene Christie100
Jim & Sally Haydn-Myer200
Ernesto Alejandro*
Judith Manton50
Eva D Chang200
Michael Van De Vanter50
Mark Flider*
Jennifer Murray50
Christopher & Mary Dateo500
Dr. Sofia Laskowski200
In Honor Of

Jane & Gerald King500
Tyler Beatie50
Ed, Petros & Thalia185
As a Gift For

Glen & Linda Eckols200
Businesses & Organizations

Hewlett Foundation8,750
Packard Foundation8,000
Wealth Architects2,500

Changes or corrections to listings may be made by contacting Kali Shiloh at [email protected]