South Bay nonprofit unveils market for food-insecure clients
In creating a new space for clients to choose their food, West Valley Community Services not only upgraded but rebranded the space in its Cupertino headquarters.
Once known as the food pantry, the space is now called the WVCS Market, built as part of an overall renovation to its facilities, where the nonprofit provides food and rental assistance to clients in Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and West San Jose.
The market is double the size of the old pantry, which was built 20 years ago, and was designed to allow for social distancing. At a May 12 grand opening event, WVCS Executive Director Josh Selo said six to eight clients should be able to use the market at once, walking a path through shelving units of food and personal care products and choosing what they want.
Selo said being able to select their own groceries is vital for clients experiencing food and housing insecurity to maintain their dignity. The pandemic initially forced the nonprofit to bag groceries for clients to pick up in order to adhere to social distancing protocols.
The old pantry, he added, was “way too small for our client base,” which grew by 1,400 during the pandemic. Even in the face of such unprecedented need, Selo said, “There hasn’t been a day when we haven’t been able to meet the demand.”
WVCS is also continuing to meet the demand from students at West Valley and De Anza College with its “Park-It Market” mobile pantry, which makes regular stops at both campuses. Besides being decked out with refrigeration units and pass-through shelving from which clients can select their food, the truck has space for those who can’t come to the Cupertino facility to meet with case workers.
The nonprofit raised $2,125,000 for its facilities upgrades through a one-year campaign. Selo told those gathered at the May 12 opening that Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian was instrumental in obtaining seed money for the effort. Simitian’s fifth district includes the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Cupertino and Saratoga, and portions of Sunnyvale and San Jose.
An emotional Simitian said the pantry renovation held personal significance for him. He recalled being raised in government housing by a single mother who clipped coupons to keep grocery bills down.
In a community as diverse as the South Bay, Simitian added, “West Valley Community Services understands that inclusion extends to economic inclusion.”
Former WVCS client Hasan Bussell said the nonprofit got him through a two-year period when he was sleeping in his car. “Now I’m housed and working at Tesla,” he said.
“This would be a wonderful society if this was everywhere,” said Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul of WVCS. “It took 24 years to get to this point, so it’s not easy to do.”
Selo expressed gratitude to the politicians and others who helped make the market a reality. “It takes a community,” he said.
Politicians, in turn, said they were grateful to have a role in the effort.
“It was energizing to call Josh and say, ‘We have money; we want to help,’” said Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc.
Source: The Mercury News