A group of businesses and individuals in Costa Mesa, California, is working to keep 120 families in the area fed and afloat financially during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Helping to coordinate the efforts is Darcie Dodds Schott ’83 (on the right in the photo), who is the senior director of philanthropy for Think Together, the state’s largest educational after-school assistance program. In total, Think Together serves 47 school districts in eight counties, providing 552 programs for 187,004 low-income students from pre-school through high school. It also offers special STEM academies.
The Shalimar Center in Costa Mesa is the cornerstone of Think Together. It was the first program site established 25 years ago, Schott said, and it is the only community-based site in the system. That gives it a little more flexibility to operate. The other Think Together sites are affiliated with public schools.
During normal conditions, Shalimar serves as the beta testing site for new programs and concepts. If they are successful, she explained, they can be rolled out to the other sites. But when the stay-in-place order was issued across the state, it hit Shalimar and its families especially hard because of that independence.
That is because, nestled among some of the wealthier neighborhoods in southern California, Shalimar serves a neighborhood populated by Latino immigrants. Many of the parents do not qualify for any of the unemployment or income tax relief plans available to other workers who are laid off.
Most of the households consist of two working parents, Schott said, and “some of them have two or three jobs just to make ends meet.” In some cases, the high school-age students who rely on Shalimar for educational help also hold down jobs.
For most, they went from barely covering their expenses to zero income almost overnight. That is when the Think Together staff stepped in and established the Shalimar Relief Fund; quickly setting up a food bank, and raising funds to assist families with essential household items. During a recent weekly distribution, the center was able to give 112 families a box of food and a $100 gift card, she said. The families come in at 10-minute intervals to maintain the public gathering guidelines.
Schott knows it is difficult for the families who come in. “There is this kind of frenetic energy around them,” she said. “All they want to do is get back to work.”
The goal is to provide food and home goods for up to three months, she explained. Most of the businesses and individuals who have donated have been associated with Shalimar for a number of years. They understand the situation facing the families, she said. Some of the donors also have Culver connections, “so I have two worlds colliding here.”
Schott has been involved with Shalimar in some way since its founding. But it wasn’t until six years ago that she took a more active role at Think Together, later becoming the senior director of its philanthropic activities.
Over the years, Shalimar has helped 300 students attend college, including its first Ivy League graduate in 2019. The boy graduated from Harvard and is now working for Microsoft.
“Any street in America would be proud of this,” she said, “but it is especially meaningful to Shalimar.”