Music blasts as volunteers bustle in and out of the clubhouse doors, preparing for another night of distributing hot meals to hundreds of people whose cars snake around the block. Weeknights at the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula are never dull.
At a time when COVID-19 has created economic hardships for many financially disadvantaged communities, BGCP has worked to alleviate the stress many now face when trying to pay for their next meal.
Every weeknight since March 19, the organization has distributed free to-go dinners from both its East Palo Alto and Redwood City Clubhouses, serving up to 2200 meals per night across the two sites.
The meals are available to anyone, and safety protocols include contactless pickup at both walk-up and drive-thru stations. Michael Jones, Senior Director at the Redwood City Clubhouse, said this resource is important to his community.
“We have helped hundreds of people dealing with food insecurity on a consistent, nightly basis,” Jones said. “The community has been extremely thankful and there has not been a night when we do not hear ‘Thank you,’ ‘God bless,’ ‘You are helping us so much,’ etc.”
Sara Lowell, a BGCP development team intern who has served meals on-site daily since June, said that leading the distribution at the East Palo Alto Clubhouse has been enjoyable.
“From being present for nightly dinner distribution for the entirety of the summer, I’ve seen the value of this program at a time of great need,” Lowell said. “The most rewarding part of my job has been building relationships and getting to know our returning patrons. I have come to better understand how significantly COVID-19 is impacting local communities and seen how the community meals program has a deep impact.”
Jones said the community dinner distribution is about more than just providing meals.
“Obviously, our main giveaway is the hot dinners, but I like to think we also give out smiles, laughs, waves and positivity during a tough time,” Jones said. “We have been able to (deliver) a consistent, reliable source of dinner, but also positivity during an uncertain time.”
None of this could happen, though, without a team of volunteers who assist in the preparation and distribution of meals in a fast-paced environment.
“Our volunteers have been so crucial in our ability to upkeep our community dinner distribution,” Lowell said. “Without our volunteers, we couldn’t have served meals at such a large volume for the last six months.”
Jones said having returning volunteers is critical.
“Having strong, veteran volunteers has been essential for us,” Jones said. “They are able to jump right in, help others, and the community recognizes them which makes each night so much fun. The volunteers make our jobs so much easier, and it has been great getting to see how much this has impacted them as well.”
Senior Zander Darby, a frequent volunteer at the East Palo Alto Clubhouse, said he is proud of the work he has done.
“Volunteering with the BGCP has been really rewarding,” Darby said. “I’ve seen firsthand the difficulties that many people experience from COVID, and the impact I made from volunteering. I definitely recommend this volunteer opportunity because it lifts your spirits and is a great way to spend your free time.”
With plans to continue meal distribution through December and potentially beyond, Jones said the BGCP team is always looking for more volunteers.
“We love meeting new people, and we believe that our process here for community dinners is easy to learn for volunteers, helpful to the community and most importantly, fun,” Jones said. “If you like meeting new people, listening to music, dancing and giving back to our community, this is your kind of place. With the upcoming holidays and the difficulties some families may face, we want to provide dinners and have some special days planned.”