Valley Churches United (VCU) has been assisting members of the San Lorenzo Valley community since 1985. From financial support to a plentiful food pantry, residents who have fallen on hard times have turned to VCU in times of trouble, finding respite in the nonprofit’s generosity, and solace in their kindness under the guidance of Linda Lovelace.
Lovelace, who has served VCU for the past 20 years, hung up her keys to the agency in December and is looking forward to spending more time in her garden.
A resident of the San Lorenzo Valley since 1981, Lovelace found her calling with VCU after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. She wanted to assist her neighbors in need and found her niche with the nonprofit. Soon, Lovelace was in charge of the year-round pantry at VCU; she became the shopper at Second Harvest Food Bank and a board member. In 2001, Lovelace became the first paid staff member of VCU, and the die was cast.
If Lovelace’s mission was to help those in need, it was a perfect match for her own story. A massive storm in the mid-’80s left Lovelace’s cabin destroyed thanks to some downed fir trees.
“There was damage to my hubby’s work truck, and my van was flat as a pancake,” Lovelace recalled.
That storm was the driver for VCU’s birth, and Lovelace soon found herself providing support for the community via the nonprofit. In 1989, Lovelace and her husband purchased a shack in Boulder Creek, but the quake decimated her home, and she found herself accepting assistance from VCU.
“I think it was about this time that the [Santa Cruz] Sentinel wrote an article about VCU, calling us ‘The Masters of Disaster,’” Lovelace said.
That give and take of support became the hallmark of Lovelace’s success. She worked her way to the role of operations director in which she oversaw the food programs and volunteers that worked in that department.
“I managed the holiday food drives via school donations and was in charge of our wonderful volunteers that manned the grocery store and community food drives,” Lovelace said. “What a generous community.”
Asked about her favorite memories with VCU, Lovelace says it’s hard to recall just one.
“There have been so many. But one that stands out for me is one of my early Holiday Projects & VCU Stocking Program,” she said. “This was a very personalized program with the children writing letters to Santa. One child had recently lost her mother, and she asked Santa to bring her mother back. She had a very sick sister and asked for her sister to not have any tumors. Just broke my heart. The kids who asked for blankets and school supplies were very touching, and it let us know that VCU was reaching the folks that truly needed assistance.”
Lovelace says she has long lived by the VCU motto: Neighbors helping neighbors.
“I never felt like I did it on my own; it took a very generous village. I’m sure folks that VCU assisted are very grateful,” she said. “We were able to help in their darkest of hours, when they may have lost hope. I hope we were able to restore hope for them. I would say to them to please keep paying it forward, as I know this remarkable community does. It’s such a wonderful place to live, with such wonderful generosity and support.”
The arrival of Covid derailed her original retirement plans. She saw herself helping VCU for several more years before the world entered its current state.
“We all hung in there thinking I would return but with one thing after another, I didn’t,” she said. “I want to travel, and I always thought I would get in the car and go, but I don’t see that in the near future. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with myself yet.”
VCU Executive Director Lynn Robinson said Lovelace leaves “a lasting legacy of providing compassionate support for so many clients that have been in need of a helping hand.”
“She helped guide clients through their setbacks, helping them make the right choices to get back on track with the support from Valley Churches,” she said. “Her decades of service always shined with her passion for helping clients and they have sometimes come back to become grateful volunteers. She will be missed.”