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As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the country, creating growing demand for food and social services, Contra Costa County’s Monument Crisis Center is meeting escalating community needs with escalating community involvement.
In part that’s due to people like Marilyn and Mark Weiss.
It was back in March that Marilyn, a retired Rossmoor resident, came across a call for donations to Monument while she was scrolling through her Facebook feed. Despite having no personal history with philanthropy and social organizing, Weiss mobilized her social media network in a matter of days, while Mark began writing articles for the local paper and tapping into his golf club’s email blasts. Soon, they were driving to the center with $2,500 and a carful so packed with groceries you “couldn’t get another nickel or cookie into (it).” To date, the Weiss’ have raised and gathered about $100,000 in donations of money, food and clothing for Monument.
“As long as they need us, we’re here to do it,” Marilyn said. “We have to do this. It’s not a question.”
Founded in 2003 by Executive Director Sandra Scherer, the Monument Crisis Center provides myriad social services to the vulnerable and disadvantaged in Contra Costa County. It hosts senior enrichment programs, after school care for children and teens, assistance with immigration resources, adult education classes and a food assistance program.
On Dec. 5, Monument will host the first virtual rendition of its annual fundraising gala, Heartfelt for the Holidays. Scherer says the need this year exceeds even the 2008 recession, the center’s previously most intense time. She estimates the center served 84 families on the first day after the shelter-in-place began in March. By Nov. 27, it was 325.
“We’re now operating from tent canopies, through the rain, smoke, darkness, heat, cold,” Scherer said. “The needs are continuing to grow, they’re getting deeper. The disparities are huge, and no one wants to be in this position.”
The food program remains Monument Crisis Center’s primary effort to this day, but since the spring the nonprofit has received, according to Scherer, unprecedented support from people from all walks of life. The local chapter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated more than 10,000 pounds of food; the local high school’s annual cereal drive raised $16,000 worth of cereal; and nursing students from Cal State University, East Bay, joined volunteers and staff “in the trenches.”
And, the center just received a box of hand-knit booties and slippers from the local senior home.
“No matter what it is, it’s not too small,” Scherer said. “Our biggest priorities now are really strengthening the food and nutrition programs, and solidifying resource programs,” such as providing Chromebooks, internet access and materials for students in remote learning.
Besides its expanded food program, the center has hosted limited, virtual summer camps, hosted two flu clinics that vaccinated almost 300 people, conducted census and voter registration campaigns and facilitated an onsite ballot box for voters to drop off ballots while picking up food and other resources.
“We live in a microcosm of society,” said Mark Weiss. “There’s a lot of wealthy people and a lot of lower income people that live check to check. These people are really, really, really hurting.”
The virtual Heartfelt for the Holidays gala on Dec. 5 will be broadcast on Facebook and Youtube Live, beginning with a pre-show at 5:15 p.m. and the main program at 5:30 p.m., featuring musical acts, a mixology lesson and many “surprises.” In recognition of their ongoing contributions, Mark and Marilyn Weiss will appear in a prerecorded video.
There is also an ongoing silent auction for the center, which includes a brand new Peloton bike. Participants can register online.
“This takes time, and gives us a lot of satisfaction,” Marilyn Weiss said. “My activity will not stop at the end of the pandemic.”