Koret Grantees: Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19

Koret Grantees: Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus has upended life for individuals and communities everywhere. The pandemic has spread not only infection, but also wide-reaching uncertainty as to when “normal life” might resume. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Koret grantees 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 have shown 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 has helped to to offer vital services and to provide a sense of community connection.

Confronting the virus on the front line

Research scientists at facilities around the globe have put a full focus to develop treatments, vaccines, or other solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. In San Francisco, Gladstone Institutes is well positioned to contribute to these efforts, and scientists 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 smartphone 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), an adaptive and dynamic therapy that may be more responsive to virus mutations.

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 longer term, with a prolonged need for ­social distancing, isolation for high risk populations, and astronomical rises in economic and food insecurity.

In a matter of days, food programs completely changed 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 has been serving the community since 1970. Staff typically cook, prepare and deliver 8,000 meals a day to thousands of seniors in their homes. When the shelter-in-place mandate was announced, requests dramatically increased and daily production was scaled up to over 10,000 meals. At the same time, the seasoned team—the people who prepare, package, and deliver the meals—shrank as some staff had to shelter at home (especially seniors, as a precaution), and corporate volunteers paused their shifts. To minimize driver and client exposure, Meals on Wheels implemented no-contact deliveries; created a scalable menu; and grouped formerly-daily deliveries into twice-a-week drops, still providing the same number of meals that a client receives for the week. Committed to its mission of delivering “more than a meal,” staff now provides well-being checks and case management via phone, as the best substitute for an in-person visit.

In May of 2020, Meals on Wheels partnered with City and County of San Francisco Covid Command Center to manage the Isolation and Quarantine (IQ) Food Helpline. This program provides a helpline for San Francisco residents who require food assistance to remain in isolation or quarantine. It includes the provision of nutritious meals or groceries and case management services. In all, in 2020, Meals on Wheels saw nearly three times the number of people in need of food come onto its home-delivered meals program.

In the midst of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels faced the added challenge and opportunity of completing a brand new industrial kitchen to replace its outdated facility. After breaking ground in the months before the pandemic struck, all hands were on deck to address the logistical challenges of fundraising, managing construction, and moving while maintaining elevated service numbers and added safety measures. The hard work paid off when the new state-of-the art kitchen opened in November 2020, and is now producing thousands of meals for seniors each day, allowing the organization to focus on addressing the increase in food insecurity during a prolonged pandemic and recovery.

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 worked closely throughout the pandemic to maximize services, safety, and economies of scale. Both organizations 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 provide thousands of meals each week, ensuring that clients receive nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. GLIDE has also grown its mobile services outreach, distributing food and hygiene supplies across the city as well as establishing a free, low-barrier COVID testing site to stem the spread of the virus. 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 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 Hanukkah approached, JFCS volunteers prepared and delivered nearly 1,000 Hanukkah care packages full of holiday foods and pantry staples to isolated community members. One client shared, “My children will be extra happy during this difficult time for our family, thank you!”

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 close fitness centers, reduce staff and cancel in-person gatherings. For many people, the JCC serves as their main source of Jewish life and community, so the disruption of connection comes particularly hard. The JCCs were able to convert many of the in-person programs to a digital format and create socially distant options. The Oshman Family JCC hosted a multi-day virtual Z3 conference in December, which included speakers from around the world to discuss the US-Israel relationship and pressing issues facing the Jewish community. The JCC of San Francisco has hosted “virtual Seders” for Passover and weekly Shabbat in Place programs via livestream on Friday afternoons, led by a rabbi, complete with blessings, rituals, and song. The Peninsula JCC hosted a “drive-in movie” Purim Megillah reading.

It is unclear how and when JCCs will be able to fully 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. The pandemic has uncovered the number of children who lack access in their homes to the technology and digital resources needed to access remote learning. And parents have taken a crash course in pedagogy and digital technology in order to home school their children.

To support remote learning, 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 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. The Tech Interactive has also created a variety of distance learning experiences, including virtual field trips complete with lesson plans, virtual labs with live lab instructors, a virtual version of the acclaimed Tech Challenge program, workshops for teens to interact with diverse STEM role models, and webinars for educators on teaching hands-on engineering via distance learning.

When The Commonwealth Club opened the doors of its new headquarters on San Francisco’s Embarcadero just a few years ago, the building was dubbed the city’s “Home for Ideas”—a place where ideas where aired, shared, cultivated. But when the pandemic took hold and the Club suspended its in-person events, the “Home for Ideas” had to find a way into members’ homes. In less than a week, the Club pivoted to an all-online lineup of programs that kept the community connected, engaged, and inspired via the devices at home. In the ensuing year, the Club has produced more than 400 live-streamed events, many featuring the nation’s most prominent thought-leaders (including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and Chef Jose Andres) and has reached an audience far beyond the Bay Area via YouTube, podcast, and radio broadcasts, bringing bright ideas into homes until it can open its doors again.

It is still too soon to predict when we will see the light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and understand its longterm effects. 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)