While staff quarantines, West Marin Community Services closes doors

11/24/2020

An outbreak of Covid-19 has struck West Marin Community Services, forcing the nonprofit to close its food pantry last week while staff quarantines for 14 days straddling the Thanksgiving holiday. The outbreak comes amid a surge in West Marin, where total cases rose from 65 to 87 this month, a 33 percent increase. Although the outbreak hasn’t been traced to transmission at the Point Reyes resource center, the offices are small with few windows, and employees have been coming in throughout the pandemic. The nonprofit couldn’t disclose exactly how many of its seven employees tested positive because of privacy reasons, and fortunately no one is seriously ill. “People are getting better and taking care of themselves, which is good,” board vice president Larry Enos said. “Obviously, the timing is horrible, right before the holidays to have to go through this, but none of us have any control over it. We’ve gotten a very, very positive response, and it’s a testament to how the broader community cares and is willing to do what is necessary.” An average of 121 households were accessing the food pantry each week, picking up 3,613 pounds of food. The resource center also distributes monthly rental assistance and pre-paid cards for emergency expenses to low-income families impacted by the pandemic. Despite the closure, the nonprofit is striving to offer the same support. The email and phone lines are staffed by employees working from home, so clients can still receive these critical funds. Food banks in Tomales, Bolinas and San Geronimo are open, with volunteers on standby to deliver food if someone doesn’t have transportation. Dave Cort, the executive director of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, said the other food pantries are able to pick up the slack. The center’s drive-through pantry saw an extra 40 or so people last week, and the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is providing enough food to meet demand. “Every food pantry is trying so hard to support their people and to do it in the safest way as possible,” he said. While key staff are in quarantine, the West Marin Community Services board’s executive committee has formed a crisis response team. In addition to helping ensure that food gets into the hands of people who need it, they are looking at other challenges, Mr. Enos said. Access to testing is an issue these days, because the Coastal Health Alliance offers just one morning a week of walk-up testing and many people don’t have transportation. The board will lobby Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and the county for more options. The resource center is aiming to reopen with limited hours on Dec. 1, after a doctor can verify that a few employees are Covid-free. The food pantry will be closed on Thanksgiving, though the nonprofit has scaled back its focus on the holiday in recent years, as staff instead focuses on financial assistance during the Christmas season.