Stories

STORIES

Rotarians Fighting Hunger

Photos & story by Katie Cooney

Ten to eighteen volunteers descend upon the East Palo Alto Senior Center every other Thursday morning. Loading boxes of fruits and vegetables onto hand trucks, volunteers steer them back to a recreational room turned make-shift warehouse. There bananas, cereal, granola bars, milk and tomatoes are sorted, repackaged, and readied to be handed out or delivered to the hungry.

Center Director Millicent Grant and daughter Bridget Grant orchestrate the symphony of food donations and volunteers each week. Both women are East Palo Alto Rotarians. Bridget president of the East Palo Alto Rotary Club.

COVID19 forced Millicent to shutter the center but did little to dissuade her passion to serve. Focused on seniors for over twenty years, Director Grant kept the free food program alive. Recalibrating, she expanded the food program beyond seniors and today “children, homeless, families, those in shelters and people outside the community in Menlo Park and beyond” receive donated food. With donations from Second Harvest, Facebook, Four Seasons Hotel, LinkedIn, Food Runners and Van’s restaurant of Belmont they have served over 11,400 men, women, and children in the past three and a half months. Over 200 + deliveries each month to the hungry.

“Some families have fourteen family members to feed,” said Director Grant. People reached out to Grant when the lockdown began, they had no food in the house. The Grants quickly responded and began delivering more food than ever before. Grant has mothers lining up at 4:30pm to get food to feed their children on their way home from work.

President Bridget Grant recruits Rotarians in Area 9 to assist in the heavy lifting of sorting and packing food and soliciting for donations. During the week, she visits Second Harvest’s hub to collect additional food items to supplement weekly donations. Their delivery van recently died, and they need a new van for food deliveries. Contact Bridget Grant if you can help.

“Seniors are last on the list. Rotary has always been there, every Christmas, always making sure seniors get a ham, turkey or chicken,” stated Director Grant.

What’s next for these Rotarians? Travel size toiletries, adult diapers – Depends, tissue and toilet paper and basic hygiene items are now being collected to distribute. Drop off donations at the East Palo Alto Senior Center at 560 Bell St, East Palo Alto, CA 94303.

Millicent and Bridget Grant are the embodiment of Rotary International’s “Service Above Self” credo.

BooksPlus Targets the End of “Summer Slide”

By Katie Cooney

Summer has passed and children are not going back to school due to the pandemic. Now, more than ever, the digital divide affects children in poverty by limiting their ability to access online learning and resources. For many years, PAUR donated a children’s book, in honor of the weekly club speaker, to Belle Haven Elementary school’s library. In 2019, Palo Alto University Rotary (PAUR) Club launched the BooksPlus initiative to “enhance book access for children in under-resourced communities of District 5170 and promote evidence-based strategies that improve literacy and promote early childhood literacy.”

BooksPlus is proud to announce their partnership with the Family Engagement Institute (FEI) of Foothill College who “offers non-credit college classes to under-resourced parents/caregivers of children from preschool through high school. FEI bridges educational inequities by strengthening the ability of families, schools, and communities to work together in supporting their children succeed in school.” BooksPlus partnerships include the Palo Alto Rotary Club, Los Altos Rotary Club and East Palo Alto Rotary Club.

PAUR & FEI completed a successful pilot with students living in Sunnyvale and Campbell. Students chose 5 books from online partner Bookelicious who offers age appropriate books that hone in on each child’s particular interests that are “just right.” Books were mailed over the summer. Results are evident in the parents’ comments below.

“…all the help they have given us and, above all, for the books for our children’s learning. You have given us the books, despite everything that is happening (COVID-19). I want to thank all the dedicated people.”

“…this great opportunity to refresh our home library because I think that the books they already have may be boring to them and I also liked finding out what my children are interested in.”

“Summer slide” reading loss is compounded by COVID-19. Children no longer have access to books at schools and libraries. In addition to building literacy skills, reading offers children the opportunity to develop self-awareness, confidence, empathy, problem solving and resiliency. Reading gives children a way to understand the world around them and the landscape of their own consciousness.

BooksPlus focuses on physical books in the hands of children. Although on-line books are plentiful, internet access and personal devices for income challenged families are not. People of all ages are tired of online meetings and screen time. Books are transportable and give pride of ownership to readers.

Corporate sponsors and foundations look for project impact. How does our work affect childhood literacy? How many children and families participate? That’s where you and your Rotary Club play a vital role in expanding the BooksPlus initiative. We are asking Rotary Clubs to partner with BooksPlus to bring more books to more children and create lasting change that supports our children, our communities, and the security of our nation.

We’ll share how to launch the BooksPlus program in your community. Please contact Jo RoyC, the Palo Alto University Rotary Club BooksPlus Chair, at Jo@anjoro.com for additional information.

Join us.