For some, the worst of COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Case rates are relatively low in Santa Clara County, the economy is recovering and nearly all public health restrictions have been lifted.
But for Community Services Agency (CSA) in Mountain View, the frenetic pace has never let up. More people than ever before are looking for help, whether it be rent relief, help paying bills or enough food to feed a family. Thousands of people, many of whom never thought they'd need social support, were suddenly reliant on the small nonprofit to stay afloat.
The virus isn't quite on the forefront of everyone's' minds as it once was, said Tom Myers, CSA's executive director. But the economic fallout that it wrought still has local families desperate to stay afloat, making demand for services a serious concern even going into 2022.
"People are paying less attention to COVID and trying very hard to get back into normalcy, but the reality is we are still dealing with more clients now than we've ever had before the pandemic," Myers said. "That isn't going to go away soon. The economic effects of the disease are going to far outlast the virus itself."
Ever since the shutdown in March 2020, programs managed by CSA have seen a huge spike in demand. Rent relief, which was a relatively small part of what the nonprofit does, became the top priority nearly overnight when thousands of local residents were suddenly unemployed, losing work hours or losing business. Myers pointed to one small business owner who did lots of face-to-face work in the service sector and saw all of her clients vanish within a day.
The city of Mountain View pumped a total of $3.8 million into the effort, seen as a way to stave off evictions and keep people housed during the public health crisis. That money was bolstered by $1.2 million from CSA's own fundraising efforts, adding up to $5 million. CSA has since burned through all of that money, and is now relying on a mix of state, county and other funds to keep cutting checks to needy families.
The spending blitz meant CSA dipped into its reserves, and quickly grew from 30 staff members to 41 during the pandemic. The city recently approved another $1 million in federal relief funds to go towards CSA, which will largely be spent on direct financial assistance for those struggling to pay the bills.
Even before the city had approved the funding, CSA began cutting checks to needy families under the assumption that City Council members would pull through -- a test of faith that Myers said required bravery from the nonprofit's board of directors.
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.
While rent relief has been on the forefront, and the full effects of the expired eviction moratorium have yet to be felt, CSA's other programs have seen a surge in activity as well. The senior nutrition program, an already popular congregate meal program run out of the Mountain View Senior Center, has grown from 120 lunches per day to upwards of 220. Myers said he isn't quite sure what has caused the increased demand, but it could be that seniors have dwindling options for safe support during COVID.
"I think that seniors are finding that fewer and fewer resources are available to them, and they're finding it much more difficult and much scarier to get out to the store," he said.
Despite the windfall of cash from the city, CSA still relies heavily on individual donations that can be flexibly spent on numerous programs. That money goes to things like helping families with children pay for diapers and baby wipes, Myers said, or it could get poured into the nonprofit's holiday program in order to get gift cards out the door. The toy drive, like last year, is still on hiatus during COVID-19, but clients seem to prefer the sense of empowerment that comes with gift cards and deciding what to buy for their family.
Looking to the future, Myers said CSA will pay special attention to what he calls "hidden" communities, which have not been served by the nonprofit to date but could really use the help. That includes new arrivals in Mountain View who speak a language that CSA hasn't traditionally accommodated, including the increase in Afghan refugees in the Bay Area. Myers said they also plan to follow up with people who have received help during COVID-19, checking in with past clients to see how they're doing and track their recovery.
And looking back on the accomplishments so far, Myers said the staff at CSA ought to get recognition for pulling through during the pandemic. Even when the virus was unfamiliar and raging through the community prior to the vaccine, he said case workers and others were showing up every day. A special team even went to houses where people tested positive with COVID and were in quarantine, bringing them rental assistance, food and other emergency help.
"We were careful -- they had masks, face shields, and weren't allowed to go inside the home, but it was really scary stuff," Myers said. "I have so much pride in my staff and the people who work here. They are truly heroes."