South Bay lawmaker, water company donate Thanksgiving gift cards for needy families
The African American Community Service Agency accepts a donation of Safeway gift cards from San Jose Water and Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Like many of this year’s holiday traditions, Thanksgiving food events, donation stations and canned food drives have taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s put a wrench into dozens of free turkey drives this holiday season as charities scramble to figure out socially distanced ways to serve low-income communities and communities of color. And as Silicon Valley faces a looming recession, for thousands of residents out of work and in danger of not making rent, the need for charitable donations couldn’t be more urgent.

San Jose Water, one of the largest publicly owned utility companies in the Bay Area, is one of many local organizations forced to rethink its giving strategy this year. Operation Gobble has handed out a truckload of free turkeys in partnership with local charities to low-income families every November since 1990. This year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the company has eschewed poultry for 100 Safeway gift cards.

“In any year, this can be a difficult time for communities and families,” said Andrew Gere, president and COO of San Jose Water at a news conference Friday. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has really increased that level of hardship.”

According to Gere, the gift cards will allow families to hand-select their Thanksgiving turkeys and whatever else they want without volunteers handling meat themselves.

San Jose Water partnered with the office of Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) to give the 100 Safeway gift cards to the African American Community Service Agency on Friday. The gift cards were strung out in blue ribbon, each emblazoned with a holiday-themed message.

The agency will hand out the gift cards to dozens of families it services across Silicon Valley.

“In our region in Silicon Valley, some people think that we don’t need (drives like) this. But the reality is that when you look at the rates of poverty and the needs of not only community-based organizations but food banks, this is a real issue that is impacting everyday families,” Low said. “It’s important to recognize that we have a need and to ensure that residents know that we see them and we recognize them.”

The initiative, called Operation Gobble, has doled out hundreds of frozen turkeys to families facing hardship during the holiday season. The initiative is part of a statewide program with California Water Association, a consortium of water utilities across the state. California Water Association has partnered with local charities in past years to donate everything from frozen turkeys to cash. In 2015, statewide donations included 1,300 gift checks for holiday meals and $198,000 to local charities.

“At a time of the year when we pause and give thanks, it really feels right to be reaching out and helping members of our community,” said Gere.

Accepting the gift cards on behalf of the AACSA was the agency’s programs coordinator, Oladotun Hospidales. Low’s office reached out to the agency to arrange the donation, and this is the first time the AACSA has worked with San Jose Water for a Thanksgiving program.

Hospidales said the gift cards will be distributed to families “in most dire need.” AACSA identifies factors such as income and use of its services in selecting gift card recipients. The cards will be available via the agency’s “AACSA Cares” program, where it donates food, detergent and other household necessities on the first and third Friday each month.

For more information, visit the Operation Gobble website here and the AACSA website here.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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