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Sonoma County’s charitable sector responds to growing need amid coronavirus emergency

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Anna Grant pushed a plastic cart around a linoleum floor in the Healdsburg Senior Center with one hand while holding a cordless telephone to her ear with the other, taking a grocery order.

The woman on the other end of the phone lived in a rural part of north Sonoma County and has little access to transportation. She was among two dozen seniors to receive a call from Grant and other Healdsburg city staff last Wednesday to see if they needed food.

“Do you like celery? There you go, it’s in the box,” Grant said into the phone. “How about a gallon of milk?”

City workers were then dispatched to deliver food to seniors in far-flung areas of Healdsburg and its outskirts on the first day of the countywide shelter-in-place order intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The previously planned senior food giveaway from Redwood Empire Food Bank was modified at the last minute to ensure people over 65 years old — among the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — can hunker down indoors to protect their health while still getting needed supplies.

“We’re a little bit shooting in the dark. We’re trying to work out great ways to make sure that they get what they want without putting things they don’t want in there,” said Grant, the city’s active adult and senior services supervisor. “So virtual shopping I think is the newest thing. And our driver will go deliver the box … and then everybody gets fed.”

The food giveaway is just one example of Sonoma County’s charitable sector ramping up and adjusting efforts to address the growing need for food, shelter and financial support amid the coronavirus emergency.

Last week, Community Foundation Sonoma County announced it would give $805,000 in emergency grants to 35 local nonprofits to help support their clients’ needs during the coronavirus pandemic. Elizabeth Brown, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said nonprofits need more resources during this emergency, especially since many of their fundraising events have been canceled to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

“In addition to the individuals and families that are going to be benefiting from these funds, nonprofit organizations themselves in terms of their funding … are vulnerable at this time as well,” Brown said. “What can we do to make a contribution? For us, it was deploying this round of emergency grants to organizations that we know could put to use.”

The individual grants ranged from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the size and scope of the organization. The recipients were all nonprofits that Community Foundation Sonoma County had worked with before, and knew they “could start making a difference on these most critical issues during a time of emergency,” Brown said.

One such organization was Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, which provides services such as rental assistance and food to low-income individuals. The nonprofit received a $50,000 grant, and will use the money to bolster its existing programs — several of which have seen increased demand since the county issued the shelter-in-place order last week, said Executive Director Susan Cooper.

The nonprofit has been inundated with requests for rental assistance and Cooper expects that more people will need help paying their bills and buying groceries in the coming weeks, since many have been laid off or are working fewer hours in light of the shelter-in-place order.

Petaluma People Services, which provides many services ranging from daily hot meals to counseling, also received a grant from Community Foundation Sonoma County.

The nonprofit is looking to add two more routes to its Meals on Wheels program after receiving more calls from homebound seniors hoping to have their meals delivered, said Executive Director Elece Hempel.

The center also launched a new program last week, called You Are Not Alone, in response to the pandemic.

When Hempel told her senior clients the center would close its congregate dining site to abide by social distancing recommendations, clients were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to socialize with one another anymore. In response, program coordinators searched for volunteers to call their clients every day and chat with them, offering seniors a safe social interaction while they isolate themselves in their homes.

Right now, at least 128 seniors are receiving calls, Hempel said.

“And of course, in typical Sonoma County fashion, we have way more volunteers than getting calls,” Hempel said. “Because you know, that’s how we do it around here.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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