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Local volunteer groups hold drive-thru ’shopping spree’ in Santa Rosa for underserved families

Members of local Active 20-30 volunteer groups couldn’t hold their annual back-to-school ’shopping spree’ at the Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa this year because of the coronavirus.

So like many other aspects of public life this summer, the event moved outside.

Throughout Saturday morning and afternoon, around 180 local underserved families drove to an office complex parking lot near the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport to pick up new clothes and backpacks purchased by over 130 volunteer shoppers.

Recipients stayed in their cars, and volunteers’ smiles were hidden behind face masks. But the event’s impact wasn’t lessened, especially for the low-income families who’ve lost work during the pandemic.

“With this whole situation, I’m not able to get (my daughter) clothes that fit now,” said a 28-year-old single mother from Santa Rosa, who asked not to be identified. “She’s growing constantly, so it’s difficult. This is a huge opportunity to help her as a community.”

Herman G. Hernandez, an event organizer and Active 20-30 Club of Santa Rosa member, said 303 kids each received $150 worth of clothes and backpacks. It was the largest shopping spree event that the clubs have hosted, he said.

“COVID-19 has decimated everything, so there’s not very many things you can go out and volunteer for right now,” Hernandez said. “When we first sent out an email looking for volunteer shoppers, we had an outpouring of support.”

Event sponsors and partners — including Mountain Mike’s Pizza, Nelson Staffing, Redwood Empire Food Bank, the Santa Rosa Police Department and California Highway Patrol — each set up tents in the parking lot and helped hand out the clothes and backpacks, as well as their own donations, to families as they drove by.

Liz Berry, volunteer program coordinator with the Redwood Empire Food Bank, helped distribute to-go food boxes, fresh produce, milk, butter and pork chops.

“We’re feeding about twice as many people as normal,” Berry said of the food bank’s total operations during the pandemic. “We’re projected to feed 160,000 families this year.”

Sonu Chandi, owner of Mountain Mike’s parent company, Chandi Hospitality Group, donated gift cards for his West Coast pizza chain. One thing that was missing from the event, he said, was the interaction between families and volunteers that normally happens at the annual shopping sprees.

“(In past years) it was so cool to see that kids enjoyed getting new shoes, a new shirt — the confidence that they get back when they’re back to the first day of school,” Chandi said. “But the fact that they’re still going to have supplies, that’s a great a thing.“

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian.

Ethan Varian

Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat 

I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.

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