Volunteers Organize Community Outreach During Pandemic

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      December 24, 2020

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Volunteers Organize Community Outreach During Pandemic
Photos retrieved from slide show by Cecilie Stuart of the Covid Coalition.. Volunteer Kristina Rocco Levy (top right in foreground) led the food delivery service team. Members of LA County Fire, Sheriffs, and CHP attend monthly Town Council meetings to present reports. Photos retrieved from slide show by Cecilie Stuart of the Covid Coalition.
In the true spirit of community, an extraordinary group founded the Topanga Covid Coalition to provide necessary assistance during the pandemic. Partnering with local organizations and L.A. County, the Coalition helped to coordinate food distribution for seniors, needy families and the homeless, providing PPEs to local businesses, providing information on rent relief, grants for small businesses and also organized mask sewing during the “Safer at Home” quarantine. Cecilie Stuart of Move the World and Tam Taylor of the Topanga Canyon Sages founded the group in February immediately following the first quarantine. Weekly Zoom meetings began in March to organize the Coalition, which included help to obtain a County Grant for food distribution and provide space for a Red Cross Blood Drive at the Topanga Community Center. “We knew during this coronavirus event that some in Topanga may have difficulty shopping for groceries and medications,” Stuart wrote in March. “So, a wonderful group of volunteers in Topanga (Canyon Sages, the Topanga Community Center [TCC] and other Topangans) have banded together to help our most vulnerable residents get what they need.” Throughout the year, key players in the Coalition include Nonie Shore and Kelly Rockwell of the Topanga Community Center; Kristina Rocco Levy of Rocco’s Cucina and Kristine Sloan, who were key organizers of the daily and weekly food distributions; Alisa Land Hill of Topanga Elementary Charter School/Topanga Town Council and In the Company of Angels-Homeless outreach with Susan Clark, Bill and Jane Terjung. Joseph Rosendo of the Topanga Chamber of Commerce updates the Coalition on Topanga Businesses and distributes the “Back to Basics” signs for businesses to put in their windows urging customers to “wear a mask, wash their hands, social distance, and limit gatherings.” Matt Doolin of Topanga Art Tile created the Census Posters that went up on poles in town. Among government officials assisting the Coalition are Tessa Charnofsky from Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office; Janet Turner from U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu’s office; Nick Gaines from State Sen. Henry Stern’s office; and Tim Pershing from State Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s office. Dorothy Reik. President of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains and Carrie Carrier, President of the Topanga Town Council, provided essential support and advice.
Photos retrieved from slide show by Cecilie Stuart of the Covid Coalition.
In addition to delivering food to seniors and unhoused folks, Coalition volunteers currently distribute food boxes at Pine Tree Circle that are provided by the L.A. Regional Food Bank.

“Good news! The Thanksgiving delivery for the SAGES was fabulous,” Kristina Rocco Levy said during a meeting on Dec 16. “Karen Dannenbaum of Sotheby’s International will provide about 175 holiday meals for the SAGES and about 20 homebound seniors.”
Rocco Levy reported that they will be able to continue storing food boxes at Pine Tree Circle in the office space provided by the landlord, Nathan Daneshgar, for another month to make food distributions.

“I have about 75 boxes from the last distribution,” she said. “We have served 3,000 families and helped so many families, who had Thanksgiving dinner, and the homeless, We could get another run and a set of 400 boxes for January.”

A $55,000 Block Grant for Topanga from L.A. County
“The Topanga Town Council is responsible for a community development block grant for a food and toiletry giveaway program in Topanga,” wrote the 2020 TCC Board of Directors. “They teamed up with the Topanga Canyon Sages, Topanga Chamber of Commerce, and other Topanga entities performing outreach who are all helping to make this program take off.”

The County of Los Angeles received the funds on behalf of unincorporated areas.
What the block grant paid for was assistance for those facing food or personal hygiene insecurities in the Canyon who then had access to prepared meals and toiletries at the Topanga Library parking area three times per week. Thousands of meals were provided by Café 27, Rocco’s Cucina, and Waterlily Café.

Additionally, through the Topanga Community Center as lead agency, Los Angeles County funded two programs—the Workforce Development on Aging and the Community Services’ Area Agency on Aging provided food deliveries to older adults who are food insecure.

According to Los Angeles County, “the new program was funded with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act by the federal government.

CDBG funds are distributed by a U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) formula to cities and counties based on population, poverty, and overcrowded housing.
“In the Third Supervisorial District, we received just over $55,000 to help the Topanga community address the impact of Covid-19 on residents,” wrote a County spokesperson. “With community input, we have decided to spend a portion of the funds on a Port-a Potty and a handwashing station.”

Currently, the Porta Potty and handwashing station has become an integral part of Topanga’s town center.

“My inspiration from Move the World (movetheworldnow.org) was that we’ve had a Topanga youth climate activism group for eight years and during Covid we, as with many non-profits, needed to change our programs to support local leadership and the vulnerable to see what we could do during the shutdown,” Stuart wrote. “Our Board of Directors, Fiona Soukup and Caroline Rheinfrank, have also volunteered with the Topanga Covid Coalition; it’s been a tremendous effort by many and an inspiring team to work with.”
Annemarie Donkin
      December 24, 2020

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