From Food Distributions to Baby Diapers - Meeting Basic Needs First

Two Safe Passages school sites: Coliseum College Preparatory Academy in East Oakland and at United for Success Academy in the Fruitvale neighborhood are designated sites by the school district for free school lunch distribution. As key “hubs,” these sites are now charged with distributing lunch to families from several other school communities. As families pick up their children’s “grab and go” lunches, the Safe Passages team, alongside dozens of community volunteers also distribute groceries for the families to take home.

At Coliseum College Prep, the day begins at 7:30 a.m. and staff are ready to distribute some 3,000 pounds of food and hundreds of baby diapers. Families arrive promptly at 8:00 in the hopes of receiving much needed grocery relief for their families.

“The word is out and the line of families now extends down a few blocks past the school,” explains Robert Campbell, the Safe Passages School Services Director at Coliseum College Prep. “We had 250 families come out on week 1 of the school closures; we are now seen over 500 families and growing.

The same is true at United for Success Academy. The Safe Passages team, composed of staff and AmeriCorps members, arrive at 7:00 a.m. to place chalk marks on the sidewalk to help enforce social distancing measures. Food has been bagged a day earlier with the support of dozen volunteers; all in the hopes of bringing some relief to many families who have recently experienced job layoffs, and were unfortunately already living paycheck to paycheck.
“The need is vast,” explains Josefina Alvarado Mena, CEO of Safe Passages, “We are attempting to keep up with the demand.” Every week, our families receive fresh produce, protein, canned goods, bread, diapers, and other grocery needs sufficient for a household of four.

Amidst all the anxiety, there are glimmers of hope. A mother comes up to the front of the line, gives her number and says with deep and heartfelt gratitude, “You guys are our heroes!” While a simple phrase, the words ring powerful to all of us who know that the real heroes are the parents who are currently struggling and praying that their children do not go hungry. We find comfort in all the volunteers and small grocery store owners who have also donated bags, water for volunteers, and produce whenever they can.

We know that this is the tip of the iceberg, but we are committed to our mission to serve. We invite you, our community partners, to join us in this effort. We will continue to distribute food every Thursday at these school sites from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, or until food runs out. If you are unable to participate in person, please consider making a donation of any size. The funding will go directly to the Alameda County Food Bank to purchase much needed groceries for our families in need.

Baby Learning – Virtual Learning and Family Supports

With the exception of food and diaper deliveries, our Baby Learning Program has also gone virtual. We continue to check in with families in their native language at least twice a week. While difficult to hear so many stories of struggle, we know that a listening ear lends much emotional relief to our families with young children.

We have also designed new ways to connect with our young clients; through online “read aloud” sessions and a Safe Passages Early Learning YouTube channel, children and their parents access playgroups and early literacy sessions.

Laura Cabral, the Early Childhood Manager at Safe Passages, explains, “We were very concerned about our parents’ mental health during these trying times; they are not only worried about their family’s health, but also about the financial impact that they are experiencing. We know that the best thing to do is to stay connected, and to continue to build community in a new creative way.”

At Esperanza Elementary School, a key partner in the Baby Learning services, coronavirus has brought job loss to 80% of the families. Program staff continues to deliver groceries to families with young children, as well as deliver diapers, books, and educational toys. If you wish to contribute in-kind or cash donations to our families, please contact for more information. Your support of any size is greatly needed and much appreciated.

AmeriCorps Team – Governor Deploys Team for Emergency Efforts

As with most of the world during this unusual time, our 45 AmeriCorps team members had to quickly adapt to these circumstances in order to continue serving our communities. For the first time in recent history, the Governor of California called for the deployment of the National Guard, AmeriCorps, and Civic Corps to address food security across the state.

In addition, we have trained and worked with our members on many new skill sets such as telecommuting, using online educational platforms, and creating scope & sequence plans to stay ahead of the uncertainty in this situation. Most of our current efforts are focused on connecting with students and families to ensure they still have access to education. Once the connection has been made, our members have continued their academic and emotional support through remote platforms.

After one week of outreach, we had reached about 50% (110) of our students, and we are in communication with teachers and families to reach the remaining students. In addition to continuing the work we do with families, we are also using this time to further develop our member’s teaching skill sets that include academic and social emotional support. Our AmeriCorps team will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our services to match the community’s needs.

AmeriCorps Highlights

Our AmeriCorps members work tirelessly with minimal living stipends to bring much needed academic and socio-emotional relief to our highest need children and their families. We wish to commend a few of our most exceptional members who truly embody the spirit of community service.

Jessica Gonzalez

Jessica brings a sunny and positive disposition to every interaction; whether it be with students, her AmeriCorps team trainings, or her interaction with the teachers of Esperanza Elementary School. Her work with TK through 1st grade students will have a long lasting impact, not only in their proficiency in early literacy, but also by growing a love for learning that will follow her students throughout their lives.

LaShonda Lynch

LaShonda Lynch has been a stalwart member of the Laurel After School Program, and welcome addition to the Regular Day program support staff. She brings a calm demeanor to every session, whether it be one on one sessions with her cohort students, or leading activities with the after school program. She embodies the grit and resilience that Safe Passages wishes to instill in all of our students, and does so while maintaining, happy, healthy, impactful relationships.

Guadalupe Jimenez Martinez

Meet one of our amazing AmeriCorps members, Guadalupe Jimenez Martinez! Guadalupe has gone above and beyond to continue serving our students, families, and community during this unusual time. She has taken on each new challenge with a smile on her face, from turning in all of her assignments on time, to supporting her cohort students on academic work on FaceTime. It is members like Guadalupe that help our community stand strong during these tough times. Keep up the fantastic work Guadalupe; we all appreciate you and your service!

AmeriCorps Recruitment Underway

Now more than ever our communities need you. You can bepart of the solution and head 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 in our partner schools throughout Oakland Unified 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 Leigha Thomas at for more information.