Samaritan House distribution

Volunteers help distribute and sort food and other supplies at the Samaritan House in San Mateo.

As the pandemic persists, Samaritan House, the central anti-poverty agency serving San Mateo County, has been working to provide services to help people continuing to suffer from job loss, an increase in food insecurity and other issues.

“We work with many thousands of people every day and support other agencies doing the same,” said Bart Charlow, Samaritan House CEO. “We provide food, shelter, clothing, health care, financial empowerment services, services in the schools, even a holiday program. So there’s an awful lot of work that we do to help people survive. And then to help them thrive. We serve primarily working poor individuals and families, and they come from across San Mateo County.”

One of their primary services is food distribution. Due to the pandemic, they had to make adjustments, now serving pre-packaged foods through a drive-thru service.

“I should say we are running at three times the normal in all of our food services,” said Charlow. “We are on track right now to produce about two-and-a-half million meals.”

The organization receives the food through donations with their primary source being through their partnership with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley supplying about 75% of its food, Charlow said.

Its operations run on a lot of volunteers, about 4,000. The numbers in volunteers increased about 300 in response to the growing need. Before, they had some older volunteers who had to stop for their own safety when the pandemic started.

‘Honest, rewarding work’

One of the volunteers, Glen Thomson, signed up to help with the food distribution and has been volunteering since April. He volunteers two mornings a week from 8:30 a.m. to noon helping load the pre-packaged foods into cars at their drive-thru distribution. The food includes a bag of protein, a bag of vegetables, a bag of dried goods, a bag of bread, and sometimes eggs, juice or any other extras.

“Originally I told myself I’d be volunteering for the pandemic, thinking I’d be volunteering for two months,” Thomson said. “That didn’t really work out. Short term I want to stick around until the vaccine is right and tight and everyone’s safe as they can be with the virus. That’s the early goal. And then we’ll see after that.”

Thomson considers this to be honest and rewarding work, he said.

“That’s really what I wanted to do, just help out,” he said. “You want to help the public but then you get here and you see how hard people work here, you want to help them too. So it’s great.”

This past Tuesday, it had a major drive-thru extra food distribution for Thanksgiving. Another distribution is planned for Thanksgiving Day at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in North Central San Mateo. They expect thousands of people to show up.

‘People are tired’

“Joy has been thin on the ground during COVID, people are tired,” Charlow said. “People are scared, they don’t have any income. They don’t know when they will have an income. They’re worried about even having a roof over their heads. So being able to do this little thing for them is a very big thing and we need the community’s help to pull it off.”

Samaritan House gained about 60% more clients, from just under 15,000 to more than 23,000 in June and has been climbing since, Charlow said.

“We know that in January when the eviction moratorium ends, there’s going to be far more people lined up for financial assistance,” Charlow said.

They had to double the number of beds for their shelter program and, with help from the county, lease out some vacant motel space to take people off the streets who are very vulnerable, he said.

‘I’m really thankful’

Its shelter program, Safe Harbor, provides emergency and short-term housing. One of their former clients, Tara Amado, stayed at the shelter where she was able to gain stability.

On Sept. 8, 2012, Amado’s foot was run over by a bus putting her out of work for a year and seven months and ultimately drove her to homelessness.

She had an apartment, and had worker’s compensation paying one-third of her original income and then after that it was partial permanent disability. She couldn’t afford the rent, especially as it kept going up. She moved and found another place but couldn’t afford it after worker’s compensation was cut down again, she said.

“So that made me homeless,” she said. “Five hundred dollars every two weeks is nothing. You can’t pay rent, pay bills, and live off that.”

After the second apartment, she was homeless and stayed homeless since 2014. She resumed working once her injury was healed and continued to look for housing.

“Cars, hotels, going home to Louisiana, coming back because I couldn’t leave because I have my job,” she said. “So I just had to do what I could.”

This year, she received a call from Samaritan House asking if she needed a bed and she said yes. They received her contact from Daly City Community Center where she had stayed before.

“From there, my journey has taken me to higher levels,” she said. “If you have the right mindset to get off the street and get stability, then you’ll be OK.”

She moved into Safe Harbor over this past summer while she kept looking for housing. Then on Oct. 21, 2020, she moved into her own apartment.

“If it really wasn’t for Samaritan House, for Safe Harbor, for the lady who called me from here, if it really wasn’t for her, you know, thank you Jesus, all I needed was stability and I got it,” she said. “So I’m thankful, I’m really thankful.”

Her hopes and plans for the future is to start a charter school and help the homeless, especially women with children.

“I want to do something, something I can get my hands in to help them,” she said.

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