Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series profiling ordinary people doing extraordinary things in this time of crisis. The series is sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners. If you have a suggestion for a person to profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ST. HELENA — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed people’s lives and brought challenges about how to feed people who are now hungry.
In St. Helena, a new volunteer-led group, the Napa Valley New Deal, is beginning to feed families in need by having meals prepared at local restaurants. It is supplementing efforts of the St. Helena Community Food Pantry where the need has exploded.
Grant and Gail Showley and Tish Wagner are founding directors of the new organization who have been working feverishly to get the operation off the ground. They have enlisted the help of former St. Helenan Sara Cakebread.
Earlier this month, volunteers Katherine Grimes, Elizabeth Sklar and Logan Showley (son of Grant and Gail) were in the commercial kitchen at St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church dividing a rice and casserole dish into individual servings. Currently, there are 1,000 meals in the freezers, ready to go.
Two restaurants, Villa Corona and The Charter Oak, have signed up to cook meals. The Showleys have a list of 24 St. Helena restaurants and met with a dozen of them in late April. The point is for the restaurants to prepare the meals, because they’re not doing much right now, Showley said.
“Then, we’ll ask the philanthropists of our community (for donations), because they are concerned the restaurants will close permanently. How can they help? They can give money, because each meal served by the restaurant is $10. They serve 500 meals in a week and will get $5,000,” he said.
“The money goes to the restaurant for their employees,” Showley added. “We’re trying to find ways to sustain the restaurants.”
"Unsung Heroes" is an occasional series profiling ordinary people doing extraordinary things during the coronavirus pandemic.
Showley was in the restaurant business for 30 years, both in Newport Beach and St. Helena (The Miramonte, which turned into Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, now closed.) He said he doubts whether his restaurant could have survived if it had been closed for three or four weeks.
“I had a mortgage to pay; I had bills that needed to be paid,” he said. “I’m hearing of St. Helena and Napa restaurants that are in the process of closing – that will never open again.”
Napa Valley New Deal is based on a similar effort in San Francisco.
Grimes is a chef who has been working with the Gott family. Grant Showley said she called out of the blue and asked if she could help. “She’s helping in the kitchen. I realized there is so much to do to put this thing together; I can’t be in the kitchen anymore,” Showley said. “I can’t do both things well.”
Current efforts are to work with groups that need meals, for example, Adventist Health St. Helena Hospital – their kitchen is currently closed.
Gail Showley said, “People are waiting for us to get up and running. The end goal of this is to feed the people who badly need it.”
When asked how many people need food in St. Helena, Grant Showley said, “That’s the million-dollar question. The issue is (the number) changes, and it is a moving target. What’s happening here is the people who live here have lost their jobs, can’t afford to pay their rent and can’t afford to pay for food.”
The group will seek nonprofit status, separate from Grace Church, and continue their collaboration with the St. Helena Montessori School, including Elena and Alex Heil, to feed seniors at the Woodbridge Village community. For the past dozen years, Grant Showley has taught music and the culinary program at the Montessori school.
What is the future? Grant Showley had an answer: “It looks as though, unless things improve, which they don’t seem to be doing, we’re going to have a larger and larger population that needs food and needs meals.”
St. Helena Community Food Pantry
More than 200 families are registered to receive food at the St. Helena Community Food Pantry. Until mid-March, registration had hovered around 70-75 families for several years, said Susan Davis, president of the food pantry.
Every Tuesday and Friday, cars line up outside the food pantry’s headquarters at the St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church. Last week, 169 families were served between the two days.
“We’re just slammed,” Davis said.
Rather than individuals, the new applicants tend to be families of between three and eight people, with multiple generations living under the same roof.
“We have people in their 70s and 80s who are living with family, and they’re not getting Social Security because they’ve been undocumented,” Davis said. “They’ve worked their whole lives; they’ve paid in, but they’re not (collecting).”
A lot of the new applicants never would have thought of needing the food pantry before the pandemic, and many are apologetic about needing it now, Davis said.
Every week, clients receive a bag of fresh produce, dairy products and frozen meat — although meat is getting harder to come by due to nationwide shortages, Davis said. Once a month clients receive a box of “basics” containing shelf-stable items like flour, rice, and canned fruits and vegetables. Clients also receive a monthly supply of non-perishables, frozen meat and fruit through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A new generation of volunteers is taking over the food pantry, such as Sarah Bertoli, retired teacher Ana Canales, and members of the St. Helena Odd Fellows — including some of Davis’ old students from her days at St. Helena High School, like Jason Kelperis.
“Everybody in this town has been so helpful,” Davis said. “And I don’t know where we’d be without the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They’ve turned over their entire facility to us.”
Davis said monetary donations are the most helpful, since canned goods must be sanitized prior to distribution.
Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.
You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or email@example.com
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Napa County's Unsung Heroes: Profiling ordinary people doing extraordinary things during the coronavirus pandemic
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