Koret Grantees: Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19

K-12 Education, Arts and Culture, Special Projects, Jewish Peoplehood

Koret Grantees: Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19

K-12 Education, Arts and Culture, Special Projects, Jewish Peoplehood

The COVID-19 virus has upended life for individuals and communities everywhere. The pandemic is spreading not only infection, but also wide-reaching uncertainty as to when “normal life” might resume. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Koret grantees have innovated quickly in response to the mandate to shelter in place and to socially distance. Unlike in previous emergencies, non-profits are currently faced with a triple challenge: increased demand for services, limited resources, and social distancing measures that restrict staff and volunteers in doing their jobs. In the face of all this, our grantees are showing incredible resilience, rethinking how they do what they do and adapting to changing circumstances, in some cases overnight.

Our grantees do a great job day-in day-out, in normal times, improving the quality of life for so many people in the Bay Area. In these never-before times, they are responding to new scenarios every day. The leaders of these organizations are making hard choices to address increased need, decreased mobility, and concern for public and personal safety. They are showing not only dedication but also impressive nimbleness and ingenuity, shifting their priorities in real time as the virus crisis wears on. They are working in a spirit of community and collaboration. Koret is inspired by them, and proud to support them.

Below, we highlight the creative thinking several grantees are “deploying” to help the Bay Area through the crisis. These organizations cover the spectrum of needs, from providing safety-net services for vulnerable members of our community, to developing exciting ways of engaging students remotely, to finding ways to counteract acute social isolation. Their creative innovations are cause for cautious optimism. The ways grantees are working will help to flatten the curve and to provide a sense of community connection along with vital services.

  • Confronting the virus on the front line

    Research scientists at facilities around the globe are working with full focus to try and find a treatment, vaccine, or other solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. In San Francisco, Gladstone Institutes is well positioned to contribute to these efforts, and scientists have pivoted to focus their labs’ research on the virus.  Gladstone’s researchers gained insights to apply to COVID-19 from working on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s.  Gladstone’s work ultimately helped reduce HIV/AIDS from a fatal disease to a serious but manageable chronic condition.

    Now, Gladstone scientists are using a three-pronged approach to tackling COVID-19, working simultaneously on diagnosis, anti-viral treatment, and prevention. They are able to do this using live viruses, which relatively few facilities are equipped to do. For example, researchers are working to create rapid-response diagnostic tools that combine CRISPR-based gene recognition with smart iPhone technology. Researchers are using stem cells to develop human lung “organoids” and human heart cells, in order to gauge the effectiveness of possible treatments by observing how the virus and drug candidates interact. And one Gladstone researcher has pioneered an innovative approach to fighting the spread of viral pathogens: therapeutic interfering particles (TIPs), which could provide an alternative to a vaccine.

    You can follow Gladstone’s response to the pandemic on their dedicated landing page here.

  • Finding new ways to deliver food to the hungry

    Our food program grantees provide thousands of meals per week during the best of times. They have also prepared for the worst of times—earthquakes and wildfires. In these “expected” disaster scenarios, people who have been displaced can shelter together and gather for food, comfort and services. Today’s emergency looks very different and much longer term, due to a prolonged need for ­social distancing, isolation for high risk and vulnerable populations, and astronomical rises in economic and food insecurity.

    In a matter of days, food programs have had to completely change the way they provide meals and services to vulnerable members of the community, including the way meals are prepared, served, and delivered.  They are also responding to the social and emotional implications surrounding these adjustments.

    Meals on Wheels of San Francisco typically delivers 8,000 meals a day to thousands of seniors in their homes. Since the shelter-in-place mandate, requests have dramatically increased.  Meals on Wheels has scaled up daily production to over 10,000 meals. At the same time, the seasoned team—the people who prepare, package, and deliver the meals—has shrunk: some staff must shelter at home (especially seniors, as a precaution), and most corporate volunteers have paused their shifts. To minimize driver and client exposure, Meals on Wheels has incorporated three main program changes: implementing no-contact deliveries; creating a scalable menu; and grouping formerly-daily deliveries into twice-a-week drops, still providing the same number of meals that a client receives for the week. These measures ensure existing clients never miss a meal, and the organization can bring on new meal recipients in need.

    Meals on Wheels has also coordinated with non-profit housing partners to accept group deliveries in buildings where multiple clients live. Still committed to its mission of delivering “more than a meal,” Meals on Wheels staff is now providing well-being check ins and case management via phone, as the best substitute for an in-person visit.

    You can read more about Meals on Wheels of San Francisco’s contingency plans here.

    The community food programs at GLIDE and St. Anthony’s have joined forces to maximize services, safety, and economies of scale. Both organizations have converted their daily free communal dining services into to-go meal programs, served outdoors, without volunteers and with smaller staffs, to reduce possible exposure to the virus. To meet the increasing demand, St. Anthony’s and GLIDE have partnered to source thousands of meals each week and to coordinate distribution, ensuring that clients receive nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meals, water, and sanitizing items all must be provided in pre-packed containers. Sanitation stations, as well as public health education, are available to clients as part of the effort to keep everyone safe.

    Many of GLIDE’s and St. Anthony’s patrons are currently homeless, and they depend on these programs for much more than food—everything from charging their phones to receiving replacement clothing, from basic healthcare appointments to a range of social services. Both St. Anthony’s and GLIDE are doubling down—and up—to keep our vulnerable neighbors safe.

    You can read how both organizations are responding to these challenges on their respective COVID-19 pages.



  • Supporting community in difficult times

    One true test of a community’s character is how it cares for its most vulnerable members. At this time of unprecedented uncertainty, the commitment to provide a full range of support services is critical, especially as demand skyrockets. Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS) has always been the backbone of social support and services for the Jewish community and beyond. The 170-year-old organization has risen to the challenge, yet again!

    With each passing day, JFCS receives hundreds of new calls for financial, medical, nutritional, and emotional assistance, with many clients facing multiple challenges at once. JFCS is ensuring that clients don’t feel abandoned—providing groceries, meals, urgent home health care visits, and interest-free emergency loans and grants. Leadership has also mobilized to provide social contact and engagement remotely to help maintain the emotional and physical well-being of adults, teens, and children. The organization also continues to leverage technology to connect people, providing a rich range of online resources and implementing new virtual programming for those who rely heavily on a JFCS volunteer or clinician for social and emotional care. JFCS medical staff, like all health care workers, continues to support critically ill patients with in-person visits, putting their own health at risk. These are true heroes.

    As the holiday of Passover approached, JFCS put out a call for volunteers to deliver Passover care packages to isolated community members. Over 200 new volunteers responded, and more than 1,000 Passover care packages were delivered, full of traditional Seder ingredients and pantry staples.

    Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) seek to connect Jews to their culture, their traditions, and each other. The shelter-in-place orders have drastically impacted JCCs’ ability to operate as usual, obliging the centers to massively cut staff, close preschools and fitness centers, and cancel holiday gatherings. For many people, the JCC serves as their main source of Jewish life and community, so the disruption of connection came particularly hard. As the Passover holiday approached, several Bay Area JCCs pivoted to provide “virtual Seders” as a way to celebrate the holiday together, to reflect on the current meaning of freedom (and plagues), and to find community when it’s needed most. As the Haggadah, the book read at the Passover Seder, says, “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us.”

    The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s (JCCSF) Seder in Place was held via Zoom, using three computer monitors to orchestrate a rich multi-sensory experience. About 350 adults, and 65 children, participated. Dozens of people have since shared their feelings about the Seder. One appreciative attendee wrote: The artwork, the music, the group choruses, the commentary—it all came together beautifully and made us feel part of a community, which we haven’t felt very much of recently. Another attendee reflected: I especially liked the thoughts expressed about being resilient, since I personally have been feeling overwhelmed by the unknown at this time. And I thought the rabbi offered a beautiful mix of religion, ritual, and comfort. Many responses were soulful, such as this one: Well done. Made my night and brought tears to my eyes (several times). So proud to be a part of this community.

    Building on the Seder’s success, the JCCSF team has implemented a Shabbat in Place program via livestream on Friday afternoons, led by a rabbi, complete with blessings, rituals, and song. It also continues to provide virtual programming for preschool families to maintain connections with teachers and classmates. Fitness instructors are offering free online content, bringing hundreds “together” for Zumba, yoga or strength training classes.

    It is unclear how and when JCCs will be able to physically reopen and the extent to which the closures may affect the long-term prospects of these institutions. Despite this uncertainty, the JCCs are at the forefront of exploring and redefining how we can maintain community and feel a sense of normalcy through such an abnormal time.

  • Engaging our minds and our hearts

    The closing of schools and libraries, museums and theatres, has utterly disrupted the educational and cultural vibrancy of the Bay Area and the country.  But, as many challenges tend to do, this has inspired educators, curators, and other providers of cultural enrichment to devise new ideas and models.

    Koret grantees in the Bay Area are expanding current technology platforms to deliver more comprehensive educational content online, for teachers, school districts, and families sheltering in place. This may seem like an obvious solution — online classes are everywhere. But in order to meet today’s needs, the current initiatives are large-scale, coordinated, and inclusive. Many children lack access in their homes to the technology and other digital resources they have in their classrooms and learning labs at school. And parents—few of whom may be an expert in either pedagogy or technology— can benefit from help learning how to home school their children effectively.

    Long-time Koret grantee KQED has launched a statewide at-home learning plan in partnership with PBS SoCal | KCET and the Los Angeles Unified School District.  KQED has combined its robust online and TV broadcast resources to extend access for educators and school districts to KQED’s deep reserves of educational programming. This is a powerful way to minimize the “digital divide” that exists between well-resourced households and low-income households that may lack access to the internet and devices for online learning but still have access to television.

    KQED’s broadcast programming and accompanying digital resources empower homebound teachers and their students to work remotely—and enthusiastically. KQED has delved into its archives to locate programming that aligns with curriculum standards for K–12 education, and has dedicated a 12-hour block of programming to this every weekday. KQED has created or aggregated a range of free online resources to support and amplify the broadcast programming and has led the statewide (and nationwide) communication effort about this service to school districts and educators. Since mid-March, KQED has been offering online training webinars to educators, helping thousands of teachers learn to use resources like PBS LearningMedia and KQED Learn in remote classroom environments. This collaboration will accelerate KQED’s progress in developing ways to bring their assets and expertise to a much wider audience.

    The Tech Interactive, a science and technology center in San Jose, had to close its doors to the public on March 13. Already a leader in teacher training, the organization has launched The Tech Interactive at Home, offering a wealth of free educator resources for teachers and homeschooling parents.  The Tech Interactive’s specialty is “design challenge learning,” an approach that encourages students to solve problems through hands-on learning projects to tap into STEM basics, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Resources are available in English and Spanish and include easy-to-follow design challenges and activities that encourage building solutions with household items, IMAX videos with educator guides, and virtual field trips complete with lesson plans. A virtual version of the acclaimed Tech Challenge Showcase is already in the works.

    Knowledge is power, and pleasure, at any age. Having suspended its in-person speaker series and informative public panels in early March, The Commonwealth Club quickly pivoted to producing an all-digital lineup of programs to inform and engage the community as they cope with COVID-19. In the span of a month, they have produced more than 36 live-streamed events on topics ranging from scientific and medical questions about COVID-19, to relieving isolation among seniors sheltered in place, to lighter fare like finding happiness during the health crisis. Their virtual programs have been presented free of charge thanks to contributions from their members, donors, and sponsors.

It is still too soon to predict when we will see the light at the end of the current COVID-19 crisis. As our grantees continue to serve the Bay Area and beyond in these difficult times, they are raising their own operational bars, in terms of efficiency, technology, and compassion. You can read updates about the ways they—and additional Koret grantees—are working smart and safe, in the Foundation News section on the Koret homepage.

Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, leads the efforts at Gladstone Institutes to tackle the COVID-19 virus (Photo credit: Gladstone Institutes)
Kitchen staff safely packs meals for delivery to homebound seniors (Photo credit: Meals on Wheels San Francisco)
GLIDE staff hands out meals to homeless and disenfranchised residents in San Francisco (Photo credit: GLIDE)
JFCS volunteers deliver care packages to homebound clients for Passover (Photo credit: Jewish Family & Children's Services)
The JCCSF offers Passover Seder via Zoom (Photo credit: Jewish Community Center San Francisco)
Young scientists try STEM activities at home (Photo credit: The Tech Interactive)
Students turn to virtual learning while schools are closed (Image credit: KQED)
The Commonwealth Club offers new daily online programming (Image credit: The Commonwealth Club)

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