The night of December 4, Kerry Lobel stepped out of Puente into the frigid night. She knew the South Coast was about to suffer.
Temperatures had been dropping, but that night the cold weather dipped below 30 degrees. It stayed there every night for a week.
Lobel, Puente’s Executive Director, knew all too well about the living and sleeping conditions for too many farm workers on the coast – barracks without heat, without proper insulation, and without extra blankets. Families huddled together in trailers to share body heat, only to wake up in the morning and discover their pipes had frozen.
She didn’t hesitate. That Wednesday night, Lobel sent a mass email to every volunteer, donor, and friend of Puente, asking for emergency donations of blankets and sleeping bags.
She sent the email at 9:30 p.m. By 10:03, she had her first reply, a $150 donation.
The next day and in the week after that, Puente staff were inundated with blankets and sleeping bags, as well as cash donations. Two days after she sent out her request, Puente had amassed 300 blankets. By the next day, they had 400 blankets and $4,000 in donations for more. Schools, faith institutions, and community organizations, all took part in the blanket drive.
The blankets and sleeping bags went out just as quickly as they came in. Upon receiving the news about the blankets from school staff, families came immediately to Puente. Puente’s community outreach coordinator, Ben Ranz, distributed blankets door-to-door, and blankets were made available at all Puente programs. Puente partnered with St. Vincent de Paul of Pescadero to distribute blankets at their semi-monthly food distribution.
The blankets were distributed just in time. Just a few miles away in Santa Clara County that week, four homeless people died of hypothermia-related exposure.
The community’s generosity forestalled that kind of crisis on the South Coast. “Everyone knew how cold it was and it’s an opportunity to look around and say, ‘I have so much, and what I can do will make a huge difference to somebody right now,’” says Lobel.
The overwhelming response, just weeks before Christmas, made headlines in the Half Moon Bay Review. Puente received donations from people Lobel didn’t know, in parts of the country as far away as New York. The Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club teamed up and raised $245 as well as dozens of blankets for their South Coast neighbors.
Others were moved to extraordinary acts of generosity. Coastsider Susan Donahue and her husband David wrote Puente a check for $2,000 after Susan asked Lobel how much it would cost to buy blankets for 100 people. Susan is the founder of Coastside Angels and she has a long history of reaching out to help neighbors in need. Random acts of kindness are her specialty.
“We couldn’t think of a better way to spend our resources. We were cold here and we thought no one should be cold,” she says, simply.
Because of Susan and David Donahue, 100 people received blankets and stayed warm overnight.
“The more people who get involved on the coast, the better lives will be for all of us,” she says.