Alameda non-profits carry on

Until we began our research for last week’s column about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the City of Alameda and its residents, the Merry-Go-Round didn’t appreciate the extent to which Alameda-based non-profit organizations have been delivering benefits to Alamedans.

Well, we know a little bit more now, and today we want to report on how some of those non-profits are coping with the pandemic.  Remarkably, despite the many challenges, the good work continues.

(N.B.: What follows does not purport to be a comprehensive list of Alameda-based non-profit organizations.  We invite readers to suggest – as some commenters already have – other worthy causes).

Alameda Education Foundation

The Alameda Education Foundation has been supplementing the education of Alameda public-school students since 1982.  Although the pandemic put an end temporarily to its middle-school sports and robotics programs, AEF has managed to keep up its efforts in other areas.

Pre-pandemic, AEF offered about 400 after-school courses in art, music, and other subjects, for Alameda Unified School District students in grades K-12.  According to executive director Victoria Sedlack,  it has been able to take about 25 percent of those courses online since the pandemic began.

“It has been challenging to pivot to online programs because many of our usual programs simply do not work as well or are not possible online, such as sports, some music (band, orchestra), etc.,” Ms. Sedlack told us.  “Some do work very well, such as chess.  Consequently, we simply have fewer programs that we are currently are able to offer.”

She added that, “since our programs are after school and students are doing online school, the interest in online classes is not as high as the interest in in-person programs was when school campuses were open.”

In addition, this school year AEF will begin sponsoring a program called “Care Solace,” which connects students and staff with mental-health providers.  So far, Ms. Sedlack told us, there have been 454 inquiries and 59 new cases; 81% are children and teens.

AEF also is continuing to support students and teachers in other ways.  The Foundation bought and distributed 2,000 headsets for use by students in remote learning, and, in anticipation of schools re-opening, it plans to deliver about 2,000 school supply kits to AUSD students.

Likewise, this year AEF began a “mini-grant” program under which teachers can apply for funds for a specific project.  For example, an Encinal High music teacher got a grant to build a drum set.  So far, AEF has awarded about 40 grants totaling $30,000.  It also purchased subscriptions to a music curriculum for four elementary-school music teachers.

Alameda Family Services

Alameda Family Services reopened its Early Head Start (infant to age three) and Head Start (ages three-to-five) programs at five locations two months ago.  About 100 children are attending.

AFS is using video conferencing to continue the school-based behavioral health care it provided, pre-pandemic, at 12 elementary, middle, and high schools as well as the individual and family counseling it offered at its community clinic on Clement Avenue.  (AFS has 33 therapists and other mental-health professionals on staff.)

In addition, AFS has set up two “warm lines” – i.e., dedicated phone lines – to continue “case management” services for Alameda Point Collaborative residents, Mastick Senior Center attendees, and families who, pre-pandemic, came to its family resource center.  These services include assistance with housing resources and referrals to food-assistance programs and mental-health and substance-abuse treatment providers.

Executive director Katherine Schwartz told us that providing services by Zoom and phone rather than in person has been a “mixed bag.”  Some people like being able to avoid having to travel.  But “it can be challenging,” she said, to conduct, for example, family therapy in an online setting.

Ms. Schwartz said she was especially concerned about the students in AFS’s school-based behavioral health program.  “Students used to be able to just drop in,” she said.  “Now we’ve had to find ways to engage with them.”

According to Ms. Schwartz, the number of people seeking mental health and case management services has gone up by about 35 percent since the pandemic began.  In addition, AFS is getting more referrals from other organizations.

For the holidays, AFS is preparing holiday bags for kids five years old and younger that can be picked up at a drive-through located at the College of Alameda from 10 a.m. to
3 p.m. on December 21.

Alameda Food Bank

As we reported last week, the number of people getting supplies of food from the Alameda Food Bank has increased dramatically since the pandemic began.

Pre-pandemic, the Food Bank served about 800 families a month at its pantry, plus another 200 at its weekly perishables program.  Now, it is serving 1,700-1,800 families a week by means of its drive-through distribution system at Alameda Point.  The volume decreased a bit over September and October, but it is “on the rise again,” according to executive director Cindy Houts.

“Just since last week we have seen an increase in first-time users,” Ms. Houts told us. “My sense is that we will see more clients with this latest shutdown and who knows what will happen if Congress doesn’t approve any more aid.”

People needing food come to the Food Bank once a week.  They receive a large bag of fresh produce, a box of pantry items (tuna, rice, peanut butter, etc.), and a bag with a frozen protein item, miscellaneous deli/dairy and bread.

Ms. Houts told us that, at the outset, the Food Bank scrambled to find enough volunteers to handle the increased volume, as most of its volunteers are older and subject to stay-at-home orders.  In the early weeks, the City sent furloughed workers from various departments to help out.

Since then, “in typical Alameda fashion, the community stepped up and we had lots of first-time volunteers sign up,” Ms. Houts said.  “Many of these are still volunteering to this day.”

Alameda Meals on Wheels

As we also reported last week, Alameda Meals on Wheels served an average of 141 meals per day during November.

According to executive director Peri Drake, the numbers have fluctuated over the last nine months.  “We definitely had a big increase at the start of the pandemic,” she said, “but things have calmed down a bit since then.”

Ms. Drake told us that, like the Food Bank, MOW needed to find new volunteers as many of its usual volunteers needed to stay at home.

To operate safely during the pandemic, MOW purchased sanitizing supplies as well as masks, gloves, etc., and it restructured its delivery system.  In the past, meals were usually delivered in pairs consisting of a driver and a runner.  Now, most pairs are split up so as to not be in close quarters with each other.

Boys and Girls Club of Alameda

(Right after this column was originally posted, a reader – former Alameda police chief Burny Matthews – suggested that we also contact the Boys and Girls Club to find out how it was coping with the pandemic.  So we did).

When the pandemic struck, the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda closed its physical clubhouse in west Alameda and created a “virtual clubhouse” online.  As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, it began to resume a limited set of in-person activities.

The “virtual clubhouse” contains videos in a variety of areas.  According to executive director Jeff Miller, the most popular area is called “seed and table,” which focuses on gardening and cooking skills.  Next is physical fitness and health, which features basketball videos.

Beginning in June, the physical clubhouse reopened from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Kids are screened before being admitted, and each “cohort” is limited to 12 people.  Once inside, they can participate in socially distanced activities involving, among other things, arts and crafts and technology.  (In the gym, each kid gets his or her own basketball.)  And they can go outside to the Club garden to pick produce and prepare meals.

The Club owns about 50 tablets as well as laptops and other computers.  Kids can use the equipment to play educational games such as Minecraft.   In addition, staff helps kids with their school work.

Mr. Smith told us that many families have been reluctant to send their kids to after-school programs during the pandemic.  As a result, the average number of kids using the clubhouse has declined from 240-260 per day to around 25-30 per day.  Nevertheless, he said, he has found that “kids really need the outlet” the Club provides.

In addition to its online and in-person programs, the Boys and Girls Club has provided direct assistance to families.  When the pandemic began, it put together “activity packs” containing books and games and delivered them to kids’ homes.  Since then, it has prepared clothing packages for about 70 kids, and given gift cards, worth from $250 to $1,000, to about 35 families.  Next week, it will be distributing several hundred holiday gifts.

Girls Inc. of the Island City

Girls Inc. of the Island City shut down operations when the pandemic hit, and it had to cancel its regular eight-week summer camp.  Now, the organization has resumed providing child care, and it is running other programs online.

At present, 14 girls are receiving child care at the Girls Inc. building (the Meyers Center) on Santa Clara Avenue.  In addition, the “Alameda Island Kids” program provides child care for girls and boys (14 in each group) at Franklin Elementary School.

Girls Inc.’s GEMS (an acronym for “Girls. Empowerment. Mentoring. Support.”) program is designed specifically for elementary-school girls, chief executive officer Christine Chilcott told us.  Girls choose a goal they want to work on and then discuss how to accomplish it.  Recently, they created a list of what they can do if they’re feeling scared.

Pre-pandemic, GEMS was offered at nine schools, once per week for one hour during the school day.  Now it is being done via Zoom, also once a week and also scheduled for an hour.  During that time, girls are able to “check in” with Girls Inc. staff.  According to Ms. Chilcott, about 30-to-50 girls are checking in every week.

The pandemic has been “hard on kids,” she told us.  “We’re trying to offer a way for them to keep engaging with their friends.”

In addition to the GEMS program, Girls Inc. is offering online “enrichment” programs for both elementary-school and teenage girls.  Recent activities include playing Loteria (Spanish bingo), making paper “fortune tellers” (on the inside “fortunes,” girls wrote tips on ways to manage their stress), and creating art in the style of various women artists.

For teenage girls, Girls Inc. is conducting its “Passport to Success” workshops via Zoom.  Participants spend one day a week for six weeks on a specific topic, most recently healthy cooking.  It also has started an online club for teens called “Girls United” that is “dedicated to celebrating and supporting all the diverse ethnicities in our community.”

Rhythmix Cultural Works

Rhythmix Cultural Works closed on March 13, but, like other Alameda-based non-profits, it has endeavored to put many of its programs online.

The Performance Art and Learning (PAL) program, begun in the fall of 2012, arranges free cultural arts education assemblies for K-8 students in Alameda public schools.  Since the pandemic, the assemblies have been recorded, and teachers anywhere in Alameda County who register for PAL can download the videos and curriculum materials from the RCW website.

Executive director Tina Blaine (“Bean”) told us that, pre-pandemic, approximately 2,500 students each year came to the in-person PAL assemblies held at the organization’s theater on Clement Avenue.  She expects that approximately 5,000 students will have attended online PAL assemblies by the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

“It takes more work to create the videos,” Ms. Blaine said, but the online PAL program “has been a huge success.”

In addition to the PAL program, RCW is presenting visual art exhibits online.  Each exhibit is preceded by a reception at which members of the community can ask questions of the artist.  Videos of the receptions are posted on the RCW website.  RCW also offers performing arts workshops for students in grades two through five.

During the pandemic RCW is continuing to sponsor online arts and music classes taught by local artists.  And it is presenting special classes, such as one called “Shelter-In-Place (SIP) -N-Sketch,” at which artist-engineer Bill Jeng demonstrates his approach to sketching and drawing, and another class devoted to the music of Van Morrison.

Next year, RCW is planning to produce a series of free “art walks” featuring local musicians, dancers, actors, and historians in Alameda’s historic neighborhoods, including Park Street’s lost Japantown, the West End business district and the former Naval Air Station.

* * * * *

Ordinarily, the Merry-Go-Round tries to avoid prescribing what our readers ought to think and do.  (We leave that role to Those Who Know Best, on the dais and on Twitter.)  But permit us today to make a request:  If you have the means to do so, pick one or more of the non-profits discussed above (or one of your choosing) and send them a donation.  We’re confident they’ll make good use of it.


Thanks to all the non-profit managers who took the time to talk to us (and who put up with our follow-up questions.)  A special thanks to Cindy Houts of the Alameda Food Bank, who provided introductions to her colleagues at other organizations.

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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13 Responses to Alameda non-profits carry on

  1. Burny Matthews says:

    Robert: I don’t know if you contacted the Alameda Boys & Girls Club and the services it is providing not only our kids but their families as well. Our staff has worked throughout the Covid with no lay- offs to provide a continuum of services on a daily basis to those kids we serve while practicing all state and county health precautions. Just wanted to let you know as I am very proud of what the Club is doing for the kids and this community despite these tough times.

  2. Kathryn Sáenz Duke says:

    Thanks for letting us readers know of the wonderful work being done by Alameda nonprofits. And coincidentally (or not?), the local nonprofits profiled in this post are all led by women. Should we be surprised?!

  3. Trish Herrera Spencer says:

    Wonderful post! Thank you so much! Happy holidays!❄☃️⭐

  4. dodikellehercomcastnet says:

    Thank you for this post. I give to each of these every December and, this year, gave every few months to the Alameda Food Bank. I also give to the Alameda Boys and Girls Club. My husband and I have also given our family memebers gift cards this year that benefit local restaurants and retail in Alameda. From those who have, it feels good to be able to support legit local, national, and international non-profits. Grateful every day.

  5. Linda Soulages says:

    Wonderful post Robert. Thanks for reminding us that we live in caring community. Merry Christmas!

  6. Franco Pantafola says:

    A glaring omission in this story….FAAS (Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter). Absolutely remarkable what they have done during these difficult times! Big shout out to ED John Lipp, the dedicated staff and valuable volunteers. They are a shining example of love 🥰 and caring on the Big Island.🏝

  7. Eric K Strimling says:

    What about the Alameda Point Collaborative? And Operation Dignity?

  8. Michael Schiess says:

    I’ll have to speak up for the Pacific Pinball Museum, here is their latest newsletter showing the good work they are doing virtually:

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