January 2021 Newsletter


A Message From Our CEO

Dear community,

It is with great hope and gratitude that we share our first newsletter of 2021. The 2020 year could not end fast enough for many of us. In March of 2020, the world changed for us all. We never imagined being on the front line of a global pandemic, yet this is exactly where we found ourselves. With your support we leveraged the nimbleness of the organization to extend our wrap around services to meet the moment. Since March, we distributed 614,377 pounds of food directly to the children and families we serve. Staff and partners have worked tirelessly to support the populations most impacted by COVID-19 and its broad socio-economic consequences.

We are deeply grateful to all of you who have supported our critical work in this time of need through financial contributions, essential product donations, and in-kind service contributions. Equally, we are thankful for the families who place their trust in us and support critical service delivery in their communities.

As you will read in our newsletter, we were very busy during the last quarter of the year; delivering food to over 2,000 families across all our programs; providing children with gift cards for toys and books so they could enjoy the holidays; ensuring access to COVID-19 safety information and protective equipment and overall increasing access to education, mental health services, and family support services.

We welcome the new year with open arms and look forward to our continued partnership in support of a more just country for everyone. This year, we also recommit our efforts to helping our families navigating the pandemic and ensuring that our children stay connected to school.

With gratitude,

Josefina Alvarado-Mena, J.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Safe Passages

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Supporting Families During the Holiday Season

Children attend the Anna Yates K-8th School food distributions in Emeryville, where families took home toys, clothing, books, and groceries for the holidays.

The holiday season, meant to be a time for family, togetherness and tradition, looked very different for all of us but it was particularly difficult for low income communities in need. To alleviate the stress on families, Safe Passages led several fundraising campaigns during November and December that allowed the distribution of food, toys, and other resources to the most vulnerable members of our community. We distributed food to over 2,000 families and toys (in the form of gift cards) to more than 11,000 children. Even from behind the masks and safe social distance protocols, the joy and smiles were felt from all.

We are grateful to the Alameda County – Oakland Community Action Partnership, the Alameda County Food Bank, the Office of the Oakland Mayor, individuals and our school communities and families for supporting efforts to keep food on everyone’s tables during the holidays. At one of our partners sites, located in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland, Safe Passages staff, school leaders and families exemplified grass roots fundraising efforts by coming together to coordinate a successful taco sales event at United for Success Academy; all proceeds supported additional gift cards for families to purchase toys for the holidays.

Safe Passages’ After School Program Site Coordinator, Heivaha Mafi, prepares tacos at United of Success Academy during the taco fundraiser in order to raise funds for the holiday toy distribution.


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Komodo Toys store owner in Oakland, Lease Wong and her daughter donate toys to Safe Passages for children in their community.

Our community partners are integral to the mission and vision of our organization. While we all continue to cope with the pandemic, for one small business owner in Oakland, giving back was her way of giving thanks.

Lease Wong, the owner of Komodo Toys located in the Laurel District of Oakland, donated hundreds of toys right before Christmas. Lease and her daughter, a student at Laurel Elementary are grateful to support the Safe Passages after school program.

“Fostering relationships with the immediate neighborhood especially the youth has been the most rewarding experience,” Lease says.

Due to safety protocols, we were unable to host our annual holiday and toy celebration in East Oakland. Nonetheless, we continued our efforts to ensure as many children felt the love of their community and families received much needed relief for the holidays. Despite having limited hours which has affected her business, Lease donated over 200 toys valued over $1,000 to the Oakland community.

“Toys became a bridge to foster the line of communication to create a more immediate relationship with the young people,” Lease says. “We all need to help each other and look out for one another.”



VISTA and AmeriCorps members pose for a picture during a zoom meeting where they provide updates on the programs where they serve.

Safe Passages is proud to have 16 VISTA members who are committed to the expansion of family support services in high need schools across three school districts in Alameda County. During this past year, AmeriCorps VISTA have become more essential than ever. Members have provided support in outreaching to our most vulnerable families during the time of COVID-19. They have helped families sign up for public benefits online, virtual classroom training for their children, provided outreach for weekly food distributions, and processes for cash aid assistance. The efforts of the AmeriCorps members have resulted in services delivered to over 2,000 families in the past year.

Since March, school-based VISTA members have played a key role in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on low-income families and students by:

1) Providing digital training to families so that they may best support their students with online learning.

2) Implementing rapid response systems for families needing urgent services including housing, food, medical insurance, unemployment insurance/supports, and other critical need items.

3) Developing updated family resource referral contacts to effectively support families.

4) Providing teachers with online classroom supports during Extended Day Programs and enrichment programming.

5) Keeping families and community updated with new COVID-19 public health mandates, requirements and resources.

But most importantly, the VISTA members work in partnership with school staff and families to ensure that schools are a welcoming and safe place. This necessitates an honest and continuous effort to integrate culturally accessible elements in all programs which cannot be accomplished without a highly diverse and committed staff.



Safe Passages staff and SSL mentors participate in the Anna Yates holiday event where they distributed books to children to take home.

Our Super Stars Literacy program (SSL) has been working hard to assist our youngest students during this time of extended virtual learning, SSL has been making great strides.

The program is an academic intervention for elementary schools in Alameda County where less than 25% of third through fifth grade students currently exceed language arts and math testing scores. SSL provides students with additional support in literacy intervention while incorporating social emotional learning standards.

In order to support family literacy efforts, SSL mentors coordinated a fun filled event at Anna Yates, a K-8th grade public school of the Emery Unified School District. Community partners like the local fire department, local businesses and school staff all joined forces to create a winter wonderland on the school’s turf. With holiday music playing and a snow machine blowing, over 200 families strolled through the different resource tables where families picked up reading tips for engaging their young children in reading activities.

Families received toys, books and a bag of groceries at a holiday event hosted at Anna Yates School in Emeryville.



Parents and children alike are big fans of reading time during Baby Learning.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” is an old time phrase that has never proven more accurate than during this past year.

As our community continues to feel the effects of the pandemic, families in the Safe Passages Baby Learning program are grateful for all the emotional and tangible supports the program provides. The program is aimed at low income families with young children, from birth – 8 years of age, primarily families of color, immigrants and families with children who have special needs. The program is delivered in English, Spanish, Arabic and Mum.

Aisha Mohamed, Early Childhood Enrichment Assistant, who supports with Arabic language interpretation shared the following from one of our parent participants. “During the pandemic, the Baby Learning program provided my family with lots of food and supplies which was the best help for my family. To this day I still I have some food and supplies from the distribution,” the parent remarked.

During Baby Learning, a safe space is created for parents to ask questions and learn how to respond to their children’s needs. The workshops are located in the neighborhoods where the parents reside thereby increasing opportunities for parents to build community. Not many things are predictable when raising a young child, but over the past 10 years and counting, East Bay Area families can rely on the Baby Learning program to be a constant place of refuge, increased access of resources and growth for their families.

A parent with a special needs child explains, “since joining the program, I have learned of other opportunities about other organizations that provide useful resources for special needs children.”

The support families obtain through the Baby Learning program is felt months and years after attending. Parents leave a Baby Learning session with groceries in hand, resources and precious time well spent.

Now more than ever our communities need you. You can be a part of the solution and heed the call for action. Through Safe Passages’ Elev8 Youth Initiative, AmeriCorps members provide academic intervention to small groups of students with the goal of improving their academic achievement by one full functional grade level.

Members are placed at our partner schools throughout Oakland and New Haven Unified School Districts. In return for your service, you will gain valuable professional skills, a modest living stipend, and an education award to support your college studies. If you are interested in applying, please contact Alyssa Mamaclay, amamaclay@safepassages.org for more information.


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