A local nonprofit is working to meet the needs of some of the county’s most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19, coronavirus, outbreak.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services is prioritizing delivering groceries, helping families pay rent and utilities, providing transportation for medical appointments, offering grief counseling and supplying essential items such as diapers, wipes and cleaning products.
Jacob’s Heart aims to improve the quality of life for children and teenagers with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and support their families. Jacob’s Heart serves families in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and south Santa Clara counties.
Lori Butterworth, founder and executive director of Jacob’s Heart, said the nonprofit has doubled its grocery delivery since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. On Tuesday, the nonprofit gave out approximately 100 gasoline cards to families to help them meet their basic needs.
“If you can imagine having a child with cancer at home,” Butterworth said. “And then having this hit, you’re already isolated. And so now you’re more isolated and any kind of connections that you were able to make are taken away. It’s a hit on the emotional well being but the safety and security of our families has just been ripped from them.”
The nonprofit, founded in 1998, helps families in many ways, including but not limited to financial assistance, transportation to medical treatments, delivering groceries, grief support, counseling, hosting camps and other social events.
Jacob’s Heart serves 330 families and 60 families who are bereaved by the loss of a child that Jacob’s Heart previously served.
Jacob’s Heart has about 250 volunteers, but none of them can volunteer during this time, leaving the nonprofit’s 13 staff members to do grocery deliveries and help families. With volunteers, packing groceries takes about two hours, but without them, it takes about triple that time. When delivering groceries and driving families, they wear masks and gloves and sanitize their vans. Jacob’s Heart is a Medi-Cal approved transportation provider, Butterworth said.
During this time, Jacob’s Heart is also giving some toys to children and teachers and artists are making project packages with art and academic activities for them.
Butterworth said the staff’s mantra comes from a sign on her door at the Jacob’s Heart Family Center that reads “We can do hard things.”
While the nonprofit doesn’t have volunteers available, many community organizations are stepping up. Watsonville bath, body and skincare company Smith & Vandiver is producing and delivering hand sanitizer for Jacob’s Heart families, Butterworth said. Lakeside Organic Gardens has increased donations of produce and Suman’s Bakery in Watsonville has doubled its bread donations. D’La Colmena Marketing & Catering is delivering fresh tortillas to families and Watsonville Coast Produce is donating bananas and avocados.
“It’s been hard, but in this community, we feel this surge of love and support and we’re spreading that out to the families,” Butterworth said.
In response to the coronavirus, Jacob’s Heart has postponed its April Teen Day, April Spring Day, its Camp Heart + Hands and is looking into remote support groups for Spanish In-Treatment Support Groups.
To make a donation to support these families, visit click here. People can also order and purchase items from an Amazon and Target registry at jacobsheart.org. The registries will be shipped to the Jacob’s Heart Family Center at 680 W. Beach St. in Watsonville and then distributed to families. The family center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for family support.
Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 25, 2020
Story by: Elaine Ingalls
Photos by: Shmuel Thaler