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.
As we all waited for the pandemic to end, EHP made plans to get our campus ready to bring back events such as Blockfest, Santa’s House and Make a Wish Birthday parties, all cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. Part of this entailed deciding what to do with the lawn area. Planting a new lawn in the face of California’s ongoing drought and the regular maintenance it would require didn’t seem like a feasible plan. Yet, we couldn’t leave it as a bare plot of dirt if we wanted to hold children’s activities and parties outside. We wanted something that didn’t need regular watering or required a lot of manpower to maintain yet looked beautiful and pastoral. We had been thinking of installing artificial turf, but it was very cost prohibitive. Fortunately, we found Green Works ATS whose owner, Cristian, was willing to help us out. Within a few months, EHP was sporting a new look, one that everyone agrees looks fabulous!
EHP was blessed and honored to have volunteer guests this summer from Momentum Bike Clubs, a group mentoring initiative for middle and high school youth in under-served communities and schools in Greenville, SC (www.momentumclubs.org). The Club also gifted us with $800 to support EHP!
"Our time at Ecumenical Hunger Program was one of the highlights of our time in the Bay Area, said lead mentor David Taylor of Momentum Bike Clubs. "It is a privilege to volunteer at an agency that is doing such significant work in the community."
Momentum Bike Club rides weekly, exploring the world on two wheels. Since their founding in 2010, they have ridden over 60,000 miles and supported over 300 youth. High school youth are provided internship opportunities, youth development seminars, workforce training, college preparatory support and trips . . . which brought them to Palo Alto. EHP shares their belief that “all youth are endowed with gifts and talents, but not all youth have the same opportunities or support.” Thank for reaching out to us on your trip and helping us help our neighbors in need!
Annabel and Dan Hanigstein were so impressed by our mission that they donated all the money in their special savings ($192.31) to EHP! We are extremely grateful for this honor and that they believe so strongly in the work we do to help families in need. Our New Red Shoes program was successful because of donations from these children and our other thoughtful donors. Annabel and Dan, we’re so happy you are spreading the news to others at your school and synagogue and encouraging them to also make donations to EHP.
We often receive donations to EHP from children who enthusiastically want to help others in need and give back to their community. Children like this with such generous hearts are truly a blessing to this world! You're an inspiration to us all. Learning to give others is a priceless lesson to learn at any age.
To help feed the need during the break summer break, Ecumenical Hunger Program partnered with Loaves & Fishes to provide free nutritious meals to our clients throughout the Summer (6/13 - 8/5/16). Food insecurity increases during the summer break without access to the nutrition provided by the National School Lunch Program.
The meal program has been extended and we will serve hot lunches on Tuesdays and Fridays, beginning October 4. Thank you to our dedicated volunteers for continuing this necessary program.
Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen is open 360 days a year including throughout summer. We provide free nutritious prepared meals to anyone in need with a special emphasis on families, seniors and the homeless. This year Loaves & Fishes is on track to serve 360,000 meals to 200,000 unduplicated individuals, including 45,000 children in Santa Clara County.
A special thank you to Second Harvest Food Bank for introducing both organizations.
Thank you to Panera Bread in Mountain View (1035 El Monte Ave) for being a wonderful EHP supporter!
Thank you to Panera Bread in Mountain View (1035 El Monte Ave) for being a wonderful supporter of EHP!
Thank you to Erik's Deli in Mountain View (1350 Grant Rd) for being a wonderful supporter of EHP!
Special thanks to our friends at non-profit Canopy for donating the lemon tree and trellis that is now planted on our campus as a memorial to long time beloved volunteer and supporter Mary Bourquin. While also improving the environment, this wonderful addition to the EHP campus will be enjoyed for many years to come! Canopy brings the life-giving benefits of trees to nonprofits, schools, neighborhoods, and public spaces all over the Mid-Peninsula.
We'd like to thank George’s Asphalt Paving for helping to make our property beautiful and safe. George and John did an excellent job repaving our parking lot. They were very detail oriented, responsive, and professional. Thank you for caring about EHP and the people we serve!
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