The day the big bomb cyclone came through the San Lorenzo Valley, Valley Churches United’s building in Ben Lomond became a hub of activity.
A previous client who was living in a rental unit, for example, showed up seeking shelter after her home was severely damaged.
“We gave her a safe place just to be, and we had a functioning phone,” recalled Lynn Robinson, the organization’s executive director, sharing the steps they took to help her get her wits about her. “You had situations like that that were happening all over the place.”
And on Wednesday, weeks after that storm passed, volunteers scurried about the nonprofit’s offices, sorting items for this weekend’s Spring Thing Sidewalk Sale.
“All the proceeds from this fundraiser go directly back into our food pantry,” Robinson explained. “People in the community love to have a fun and curated sale. It’s very different from going to just neighborhood sales.”
The event—to be held in downtown Ben Lomond from 10-5pm on Saturday (April 29), and then again the following Saturday (May 6)—will be pop-up commerce for a cause.
“There will be items that are brand-new, otherwise they’re things that are impeccable,” Robinson said. “If they’re not, they wouldn’t be in the sale. They’re everything from everyday household items that people need, to antiques, to craft items.”
The genesis of the idea came from volunteers looking for ways to turn excess donations from holiday sales into cash to help the less fortunate.
Because so many of the items that were given to Valley Churches for their Christmas fundraiser weren’t holiday-related, they made for perfect merchandise for the sidewalk sale. Plus, with a pandemic on, it made sense to set up an open-air market.
And they brought in so much revenue last time they knew they had to do it again.
“It was just wildly popular in terms of the event itself,” Robinson said. “The volunteers putting it together have so much amazing energy that they just do this amazing job.”
Suddenly, Robinson excuses herself from the interview with the Press Banner because a woman was at the door. She quickly returns.
“This is someone just donating bags,” she said, referring to the paper grocery sacks they use in the food pantry, adding there’s been increasing demand for their services over the past several months. “We’re definitely still seeing the uptick because of the inflation issues.”
A common story is the person who shows up at their door who never thought they’d have to turn to a food bank to make ends meet.
“They’re falling short, and we’re a good safety net for them,” she said. “We give a large brown bag of non-perishable food that they don’t have to spend money on.”
This allows families to stretch their dollar in the face of companies raking in record profits as prices for basic items rise across the country.
“‘Why didn’t my money stretch until the end of the month?’” has been a frequent refrain heard over at Valley Churches, this year. But Robinson understands the factors.
“Just the cost of the housing…They’re commuting over the hill and the cost of gas is going up… That’s even separate from the disasters we’ve had,” she said. “Covid’s a whole other disaster.”
And there are many families still trying to rebuild after the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire.
Valley Churches has seen plenty of people requesting help after this year’s series of winter storms that were officially classified as two separate natural disasters.
“So many people got really affected by the storms around here,” she said. “It was really challenging in the mountains.”
She told the Press Banner about one woman they’ve been delivering food to whose vehicle was crushed by a falling tree. They’re just thankful it didn’t crush her.
Also, daily life has continued to be disrupted by detours and traffic slowdowns as authorities try to rebuild local infrastructure. And while residents are understanding and generally thankful for the projects, it does make it hard to move on after facing hardship, Robinson notes.
“It affects your demeanor when you still feel like you’re living in disaster mode,” she said. “People are still reeling from their experience with the CZU Fire, because they’re still displaced…They appreciate the kind of support they can receive through a nonprofit like Valley Churches. Because it’s just one more source of support.”