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A Lifeline in the Gig Economy

May 20, 2020

For 60 years, Community Services Agency (CSA) has been a vital lifeline to people in need. Now a member of the Emergency Assistance Network of Santa Clara County, the organization began as a community resource for immigrant farmers tending the orchards in the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Over the decades, it evolved to meet the rapidly changing needs of the local economy and the economic fortunes of its residents.

But it has never seen anything like this.

“Normally we have about 20 to 25 rental assistance cases at CSA. We currently have a queue of 1,500 people, and it’s all because of the collapse of the service sector and the gig economy,” said Tom Myers, CSA executive director. “The number of people needing rental assistance is huge, and so is the number of people coming to us on a regular basis for food. The need has really multiplied.”

The Bay Area was swift and certain in implementing the most stringent stay-at-home orders in the nation. That left many in the gig economy out of work, with little savings, to make ends meet. Although a limited number of businesses still operate as essential services throughout the region, there aren’t enough jobs to provide for the tens of thousands now out of work.

“As much as people might think that folks are still working and doing deliveries and things like that, the number of people who were actually employed within the gig economy in restaurants and things like that has diminished to such an extreme that it’s really essentially a collapse of those economies,” said Myers.

Fortunately, organizations like CSA are stepping up to ease the pain of those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Now in its 30th year of partnership with United Way, CSA has the infrastructure, funding and operational expertise to rapidly scale and meet the moment head on. 

“The COVID crisis is a perfect example of why the United Way is so important,” Myers explained. “I don’t think any of us would’ve thought we were ever going to live through a pandemic.”

UWBA provided early funding for CSA to hire additional pantry staff and case managers, ramp up advertising for volunteer recruitment, provide rental and utility payment assistance to new and existing clients and purchase additional food to meet the increased need.

CSA creatively retooled its operations to continue important programs like the Senior Lunch Program, usually offered at the Mountain View Senior Center. Now, instead of serving hot lunches in a community cafeteria, the same wholesome food is prepared in the commercial kitchen and delivered to seniors in a newly envisioned drive-through.

Given the organization’s history with agriculture, it’s perhaps not surprising that food and nutrition are given special attention. CSA reinvisioned its walk-in food pantry as a to-go service with a particular emphasis on the special dietary needs of the region’s underserved community. People with diabetes–a population at particular risk for COVID-19 complications–receive a suitable bag of groceries to help keep blood sugar in check. Homeless individuals receive healthy, ready-to-eat items in pop-top cans. Seniors and others who must stay at home get their groceries delivered.

“We still try and make sure that everyone has access to fruits, vegetables, and healthy food,” said Myers. We’ve got it down to a science. It’s all been part of this pivoting. We’ve pivoted every single program we’re doing into something different.”

The need is only expected to grow in the coming months. Please join us today in making a contribution to the United Way Bay Area COVID-19 Community Relief Fund.