Candice Elder has been busy. As executive director of the nonprofit The East Oakland Collective, an organization working towards racial and economic equity, Elder said 2020 was a year of exponential growth, catalyzed by the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the Black and brown communities of Alameda County. 

Now, after a year of adaptation, she and her team are poised to keep on providing for people in need.  

“You see a lot of businesses and organizations closing,” she said. “We expanded!” 

Elder founded The East Oakland Collective (EOC) in 2016 following decades of gentrification, underfunded infrastructure and a shortage of resources for some of Oakland’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Spanning from Lake Merritt to San Leandro, East Oakland is a historically working class neighborhood with a concentration of freight train stops and industrial factories. More than 50 percent of the population is Black, facing a mixture of socioeconomic obstacles that include lower life expectancy, inferior air quality and a shortage of grocery stores compared to surrounding areas. The uptick in homicides reported for Oakland in 2020 was concentrated in East Oakland. 

Elder, however, is optimistic. She’s expanded on old programs and rolled out new ones that seek to keep communities fed, housed and, hopefully, thriving.    

EOC centers its efforts around principles of economic empowerment, civic engagement and finding solutions for the unhoused. 

Last year, the group’s meal distribution program exploded in response to community need, and Elder now delivers an average of 11,000 meals a month to more than 1,000 families. In December, EOC managed to distribute 500 toys in partnership with the Oakland Education Association, and it is currently working to scale up its produce and grocery programs. In February, the Collective collaborated with artists and activists from the “Women of the Black Panther Party” mural project to host a food drive. 

“Food insecurity in our most vulnerable communities has increased,” Elder said. “How do we stabilize our communities? (It’s) not just about relief, but combining relief with wraparound services.” 

These wraparound services include EOC’s COVID-19 outreach initiative to increase testing and, now, help arrange vaccination appointments for eligible people who can’t make it to the Oakland Coliseum or other large-scale sites. Another service, the SuSu Lending Circle, is a type of neighborhood crowdfund inspired by communal resource systems in some African societies. EOC is currently launching a scholarship program for 14 needy SuSu participants.

“We started SuSu for Black residents to connect back to ancestral practices of lending together when traditional banking has failed us. We have a history of being redlined and banned from getting loans,” Elder said. 

“We want to combine (lending) with financial literacy workshops by local Black financial experts to build confidence and collective economic opportunities,” she added.

The East Oakland Collective’s meal distribution program has exploded to address food insecurity among the unhoused, senior and lower income populations. The organization currently serves 1,000 households, distributing 11,000 catered meals and 1,000 bags of groceries a month.

EOC is also supporting a transportation initiative to get a clean energy bus that would run to the shoreline, helping residents spend more time in nature by the water. 

And next up is a new iteration of EOC’s Feed the Hood “drive-up edition” food and personal protective equipment distribution event for displaced and unhoused communities. It will take place April 24, in partnership with Thicc Burger; for every burger bought, one will be donated to a resident in need. 

“We’re looking at, ‘What does life look like after a pandemic?’” Elder said.  “I want to see our communities thrive, see us in a better position than we were pre-COVID. That’s gonna take a lot of systemic change. A lot needs to be done.”