Nonprofit groups that traditionally provide large in-person meals during the holidays have been forced to find creative ways to help feed families in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
While traditional communal meals on Thanksgiving have largely been canceled, according to many Tri-Valley nonprofit organizers, food insecurity has only grown in light of the COVID-19 crisis, so groups have adapted by providing takeout services and groceries for families who may need a little extra support this holiday season.
"(St. Raymond Catholic Church) in particular has always had a food pantry but this year it has really been beefed up because of the demand," Janet Songie, co-chair of Community Outreach Thanksgiving Dinner, told the Weekly. "Folks can contact the church and fill out some simple registration to receive food."
Each year the Community Outreach Thanksgiving Dinner would typically host a Thanksgiving Day meal at St. Raymond's in Dublin, but like so many, the group was forced to cancel its beloved tradition due to the pandemic.
"It's disappointing because so many people are already homebound but (canceling) is for everyone's safety. We are giving it our all and hoping that by next year we are back to our normal routines," Songie said.
In response to the cancellation, Songie's group has focused its efforts on promoting other nonprofit organizations throughout the region that are providing food services.
Those groups include the Children's Emergency Food Bank, Valley Bible Church in Pleasanton (this year in conjunction with Valley Community Church), St. Michael Catholic Church in Livermore, Open Heart Kitchen, Tri-Valley Haven and Culinary Angles.
Songie added that her group also donated to the aforementioned groups the seed money usually spent on St. Raymond's Thanksgiving dinner.
One of those recipients, Valley Bible Church, also traditionally holds a meal event around Thanksgiving for residents, which it has canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic; however, church officials have adapted by donating Thanksgiving food baskets to residents.
"We're teaming up with Valley Community Church, and they are collecting the food and packing it out for me," said Kim Chew, director of the food pantry at Valley Bible Church. "I think everybody is missing out on their community, but our prayer is that the time that people are spending with their immediate family will be sweeter."
Launched in 2008, the food pantry at Valley Bible Church traditionally offers food baskets full of groceries for families to create their own holiday memories, but this year has seen a significant jump in the number of families picking up baskets.
Chew said that the usual 40 families served has risen to more than 100 this year.
"This year the agencies that usually do Thanksgiving dinners are not serving because of COVID. So there's this huge demand where most people are staying home when they might normally go stay with relatives or something like that," Chow said.
Residents who want to be placed on a waitlist for the Valley Bible Church food pantry's Thanksgiving food baskets can email [email protected]
Food pantries throughout the region have seen increased use, with Tri-Valley Haven's pantry for example seeing more patrons -- particularly first-time visitors -- since the pandemic began.
"Regularly we have our own Tri-Valley Haven food pantry that is open during weekdays, and the need for that has definitely increased ever since March and we serve about 50 families a day. It's all outdoors so that we can proceed with CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing," said Samantha J. Valdez, communications specialist at Tri-Valley Haven.
"There's definitely people who have arrived at the food pantry thinking, 'Oh, this is my first time; what do I need to do?' I would say a lot of the increase we've seen is due to people having a loss of income," added Christine Dillman, Tri-Valley Haven's director of development.
Located at the Mar Thoma Church, (418 Junction Ave. in Livermore), the food pantry primarily relies on donations from residents and local grocery stores. It is open Mondays through Wednesdays 1-5 p.m., Thursdays from 1-7 p.m., and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. Call Tri-Valley Haven for more information at 449-1664.
"We're (also) partnering with Open Heart Kitchen to take over the food distribution program that had begun at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, and so that's wonderful. From what I understand, it is a driveup and they will just open their trunks and load them with food," Dillman said.
Donations are particularly welcome now, according to Tri-Valley Haven spokespeople, who've said that the nonprofit industry is not immune to the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
"I think something that's different during COVID is that we've had to purchase food. Over the summer, we had to spend about $15,000 on a food order which we normally do not do," Dillman said.
"There has definitely been, because of the possibility of a second lockdown coming in, very low donations from the stores," Valdez added. "We haven't had meat and milk and eggs in weeks. Very little produce so right now we've been pretty reliant on the government dropoffs every month."
Residents and community groups throughout the Bay Area have been stepping up to help support food pantries, such as the Boy Scouts of Pack and Troop 947 who participated in the annual Scouting for Food drive on Nov. 4-14.
Participating Scouts collected nearly 1500 non-perishable food items and after sorting them delivered the food to the Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland.
The Alameda County Food Bank is always accepting more donations and residents are invited to donate online at www.accfb.org.
For Thanksgiving specifically, on Sunday (Nov. 22) Tri-Valley Haven's annual Mony Nop Turkey Drop is set to return, giving residents the opportunity to donate frozen turkeys, gift cards or cash for families in need throughout the region.
This year, to celebrate its fifth annual Mony Nop Turkey Drop, the Mony Nop Real Estate Team will be donating $5 for every turkey collected.
"Growing up in famine in a third world country myself, I know how it feels to go to bed hungry," Realtor Mony Nop said of the event. "I wanted to help so our team created the Mony Nop Turkey Drop. This event is a fun and simple way for members of our community to give back to those that are less fortunate during the holidays. With the support of our great communities, we hope that no one will go to bed hungry during the holidays."
Tri-Valley Haven staff will be found collecting donations from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday in front of Livermore's City Hall Building, 1052 S. Livermore Ave.
While there are still plenty of options for food-insecure families to receive groceries and meals to create their own Thanksgiving memories, some nonprofit workers are also concerned about the lack of community togetherness and potential isolation many individuals will face without in-person holiday meals.
"For our outreach to the homeless, it's important to talk about (feelings of isolation or loneliness and ask) how are you feeling? Are you connected to your family? How do you feel during the holidays? And just trying to have conversations about it," said Christine Beitsch-Bahmani, CEO of CityServe of the Tri-Valley. "We're nervous because with the pandemic and the holidays in general, we see higher suicide, we see higher depression and anxiety, and then you add a pandemic and illnesses on top of that."
"If people feel like they are in need of something during the holidays, they can always reach out. We are very customized, so if they come and have a need, we can show them different programs going on," she added.
Residents can learn more about programs for food security and emotional wellness by visiting cityservecares.org or calling CityServe at 222-CARE.