On October 28, 2021, Lesia Preston, Executive Director of EHP was honored by the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto as a 2021 Angel Award recipient. This Award is given to an individual in the Palo Alto area who has had a significant, positive impact on children and youth in our community and beyond. We at EHP are thrilled that Lesia has been recognized by the community for her many years of service dedicated to improving the lives of those most vulnerable. Following is the introduction given by Lanie Wheeler, EHP’s bookkeeper, at the 2021 Kiwanis Angel Award presentation.
EHP has been in the safety net business since 1975 when founder, Miriam Nixon Hope and a group from Church Women United channeled surplus and donated food to neighborhood pantries where it was distributed to families in need. In 1978, when the organization was formally incorporated as a nonprofit, Lesia Preston was 13 years old and one of its first volunteers. She helped in the food pantry and was hired as the food coordinator in 1982. As Lesia grew, so did the organization. From its humble beginnings in a church basement, EHP now operates on a 1-acre campus comprised of 5 buildings. From distributing food, its services have expanded to providing clothing, household goods, furnishings and appliances, counseling and a variety of programming and special services directed at the children of the families EHP serves.
Lesia was named Executive Director of EHP in 2011. During her tenure, she continued to grow the community collaborations that resulted in many of the children’s programs instituted prior to the pandemic: tutoring and mentoring, teen health, nutrition and cooking classes, birthday celebrations, Pack the Bag, a weekend lunch program for children during the school year and the Summer hot lunch program, to name a few.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Lesia quickly pivoted the programming of the entire agency to fit the new realities of the Covid-19 world. The emphasis of the agency shifted back to its origins as a food distribution center. The number of clients served doubled seemingly overnight, with lines of cars waiting to get into the parking lot, backing up to the intersection of Bay Road and University Avenue. But that didn’t stop Lesia from continuing to the extent possible the programs for her special children. Programs like Pack the Bang and Cake4Kids birthday cakes continued and others like Back to School and Christmas gift programs were modified to reflect the new challenges and new needs. Today, EHP provides services to over 27,000 individuals, of which over 6500 are children living in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and neighboring communities.
EHP’s impact on youth extends beyond those children in need. Pre-pandemic, 450 youth volunteers, some as young as 6 years, provided direct service on EHP’s campus, allowing them to see the impact of their kindness and generosity. This does not count the children and teen service and school groups who held off-site food, gift card and clothing drives.
To this latter point, EHP received the following letter from a former volunteer:
I vividly remember my afternoon at EHP 25 years ago. Even as a rambunctious 5th grader, I was captivated by the staff and their earnest commitment to their work. Together, we sorted food and discussed the importance of supporting those in need. I was inspired by the immediate application and positive benefit of our work. Little did I know how impactful that moment would be.
As I navigated my own life, I never forgot the lessons from that day of volunteering. Since then, I have done service projects in many countries and formats often reflecting back to what it felt like as a young kiddo to roll his sleeves up and think of and work to provide for the needs of another.
As the Rabbi of Barrack Hebrew Academy outside Philadelphia, it is my job to coordinate service projects for our 350 students. Last month, during our school wide day of service, as I drove around to our 15 different service projects, I flashed back to my first opportunity to volunteer and was overwhelmed with gratitude.
Thank you for your work, both that which fills our bellies when we need and that which nourishes and inspires our soul.
Rabbi Will Keller
EHP’s mission is to provide compassionate, dignified, and practical assistance to families and individuals experiencing economic and personal hardship. We offer material help, support services and advocacy for our neighbors in need, in a challenging and rapidly changing environment.
Our Angel, Lesia, is the human embodiment of this mission with the vision and creativity to make the words into reality and a smile and a heart as big and radiant as the sun.
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