Local nonprofits and religious organizations try to cope with the coronavirus shutdown

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Spring is here, and with it plans for golf tournaments, auctions and dinners for the Peninsula’s many nonprofit organizations – all up in smoke because of the coronavirus and its associated shelter-in-place orders.

The economic loss could easily top $1 million to dozens of local charities, including Redwood City’s Kainos Home and Training Center for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults; LifeMoves, which helps the homeless in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties; the Upper Peninsula League of the San Francisco Symphony; the San Mateo County Historical Association; Adelante Selby Spanish Immersion School in Atherton; and Upward Scholars, which assists largely minority adults who are headed back to school.

Moreover, at a time when local nonprofits are being squeezed financially, they’re also being strained operationally. Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, which normally provides food to around 270,000 monthly clients, has seen that number surge by 100,000 per month since the outbreak began and people started losing their jobs because of the economic shutdown. At Samaritan House in San Mateo, which aids the poor in numerous ways, requests for financial assistance have jumped more than tenfold, from $140,000 per month to more than $1.5 million, according to Chief Executive Officer Bart Charlow.

This story was originally published in the June edition of Climate Magazine. To view the magazine online, click on this link.

“We’re seeing an awful lot of people who desperately need help that didn’t before,” Charlow says. Adds Chief Executive Officer Leslie Bacho of Second Harvest, “We’re seeing completely unprecedented demand for our services. As soon as the shelter-in-place began, we started seeing 25-, 50-, 100-percent increases in the number of people at our sites right away.”

Bacho observes further that daily phone calls for food have increased from around 280 to more than 1,000. More than half of the people currently seeking help, she says, are coming to Second Harvest for the first time.

Houses of worship are also being pinched, although not as painfully as many nonprofits. Local Jewish and Protestant clergy report only a slight decrease in offerings. The relatively mild drop, they say, has resulted from members’ mailing in checks and giving through electronic services such as PayPal, instead of the offering plate.

It’s a different situation, though, for the Muslim congregation of Masjid Ul Haqq in San Mateo. There, Imam Hamzah Palya says the month of Ramadan, running this year from April 23 to May 23, is traditionally a significant time of giving. Palya says this Ramadan was expected to bring in noticeably fewer offerings than usual.

Among Catholic churches, the 90 parishes in San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties initially took a hit of up to 50 or 60 percent of offerings, according to Rod Linhares, director of development for the San Francisco Archdiocese. Linhares says the shortfall has now leveled off at between 25 and 30 percent, in part because of a quick modernization of many local churches’ giving practices, which had relied heavily on the Sunday-morning collection basket.

Others Meeting in Churches

Other revenue streams for religious organizations have also dried up during the stay-at-home order. Many congregations rent their fellowship halls and Sunday school classrooms to associations ranging from 12-step groups to garden clubs and scout troops. In an example of how the coronavirus shutdown has rippled through the economy, the current absence of such tenants – as well as worshipers – has led Sequoia Church in Redwood City to discontinue its janitorial and gardening services.

A greater setback to religious organizations, local clergy agree, is the loss of fellowship.

“So much of Jewish life is done in community,” says Rabbi Nat Ezray of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City. Ezray points to what he calls “life-cycle events” – bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals, as well as the traditional Friday-night observance of the Sabbath, as times when Jews gather to worship, celebrate and say goodbye to loved ones.

Pastor Paul Schult of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City concurs.

“We’ve done our best to use technology such as Zoom to put worship services and Bible studies online,” Schult says. “But it’s not the same as being face-to-face.”

Adds Dennis Logie, retired pastor of Sequoia Church, “When you take away community from a church or a synagogue or a mosque, you have really hit people with a hard blow. This kind of quarantine is really difficult for people who are used to going to church. We miss each other.”

On the other hand, Ezray says, online broadcasts of temple services have widened Beth Jacob’s congregation. It’s a similar story at Redwood City’s 1,000-member Peninsula Covenant Church, where Lead Pastor Gary Gaddini says broadcasts have been joined by worshipers in the South, Midwest and Canada.

“We grieve at not being able to be at bedsides and be together in the world,” Gaddini says. “There’s a lot of pain in our community from not being in the same room. But (with online services), there’s a lot of opportunity, as well.”

Canceled Fundraisers

Opportunity lost, however, is the common theme for many nonprofits. Kainos Home and Training Center in Redwood City voluntarily scrubbed its annual dinner, scheduled for March 6, which was expected to draw up to 350 donors. An April 27 golf tournament to benefit the home was also canceled, and along with it an anticipated $150,000 in revenue. In jeopardy now is a fashion show currently set for the fall, which organizers say could bring up to $250,000.

Even if today’s shelter-in-place orders were relaxed by then, Kainos Executive Director Andy Frisch says, “I don’t know if people will be willing to sit at a banquet table.”

Major fundraisers have also been lost at LifeMoves, which helps people in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties overcome homelessness. A canceled luncheon scheduled for March 20 was anticipated to pull in $250,000. The organization’s annual breakfast in September, which Vice President of Programs and Services Brian Greenberg says typically attracts 1,100 guests, was expected to raise $850,000. Greenberg says the organization “is probably not going to do it in person,” and is currently considering whether to hold the event online.

At the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City, the Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica and the historic Woodside Store, now all closed, the stay-at-home orders have had a pronounced effect. President Mitch Postel of the San Mateo County Historical Association says the sites are losing $25,000 in revenue every month from foregone school programs, rentals, admissions and souvenir sales. Postel says 50 percent of the association’s $1.6-million budget comes from two big fundraisers – a now-threatened “history-makers” dinner in September and an annual campaign scheduled to launch in January. Postel adds that nine of the museum’s 11 part-time staff have been laid off, with nine full-timers keeping their jobs through at least July.

When it comes to lost fundraisers, Adelante Selby Spanish Immersion School in Atherton has been luckier than many organizations. Irma Zoepf, treasurer of Unidos y Adelante Selby, the school’s parent-teacher organization, says the group’s two big events, a party and an auction, were expected to raise $30,000 or more. Even though the programs were canceled, parents and other donors still contributed $20,000.

Another local educational charity has been less fortunate. Zoepf is also president of the board of Upward Scholars, which provides economic and academic support to low-income, mostly immigrant adults who return to school to earn a General Equivalency Degree and, in many cases, continue on to college. This is the organization’s tenth year, and Zoepf says Upward Scholars had invested more than $10,000 in a gala scheduled for March 28 that was expected to bring in more than $50,000. Zoepf hopes the event can still be held toward the end of the year.

The Upper Peninsula League of the San Francisco Symphony has also come up short. Vonya Morris, the organization’s leader, says the group’s annual “Hats Off to the Symphony” event would have raised $20,000. In addition, in March, the League had to cancel its annual bus-and-bag-lunch trip to San Francisco for Peninsula senior citizens to watch the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

A National Crisis for Charities

Nationwide, many nonprofits are facing potential closure, according to a May 12 article in The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper quoted Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of the New York-based Nonprofit Finance Fund, as saying the coronavirus and its economic effect on charities was “an unprecedented calamity.”

Chief Executive Officer Jan Masaoka of the California Association of Nonprofits also paints a gray picture. She says many of the nonprofit leaders she speaks with are talking about going out of business, or at least entering a period of hibernation.

Those who depend on the stretched – or sometimes closed – services of nonprofits are also feeling the strain. As one example, Masaoka cites the situation of parents in essential-service jobs who used to rely on nonprofit childcare providers.

“If you’re one person whose kid was in an after-school program (that’s currently shut down), now you don’t have that opportunity,” she says. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of kids are like that now. Parents are scrambling to find where they can put their kids.”

A Ray of Hope

Especially among religious leaders, however, there rings a voice of hope throughout the tremendous difficulties. Ezray notes that Judaism teaches about the power of kindness, which he, other clergy and nonprofit leaders have observed through the generosity of donors and volunteers since the pandemic began.

“I think when you experience kindness during times of great upheaval, it gives you a sense of purpose,” Ezray says. Noting that the Jewish people “have gone through tough times,” he adds, “I’m sure we can get through this.”

Still, charities such as Samaritan House, which Charlow says has received many donations since the start of the outbreak, worry about what he calls the long-term “fundraising cliff,” where giving falls off after the initial urgency wears away.

“We’re in a reasonably good position in the short run,” Charlow says. “No one knows what the long run will be. It’s been quite a ride, and we’re just at the beginning of the wave.”

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