Hometown Hero Maria Tanaka organizes community to bring supplies to those in need

by Linda Hubbard on September 12, 2020

Today’s COVID-19 Hometown Hero nominee is Menlo Park resident Maria A. Tanaka.

Maria has been using Nextdoor to bring together and organize community members to bring supplies and goods to those in need. Her work started in Menlo Park and then grew virally to other locations on the Peninsula.

Her inspiring journey of kindness and service to others in these challenging times is described in her own words below. Thank you Maria!

“Walking over on Santa Cruz Avenue a few weeks after the shelter in place orders, I was taken by sadness and had a sensation to be living in a ghost town. Thinking in how all these people who used to work here would survive prompted me to act.

“Being a loyal customer of many businesses in downtown, I have contacted some of their employees asking if I could help in any way. They asked for food. Through word of mouth, the requests increased beyond food. The idea of posting a call for help on Nextdoor was intuitive and timely.

“These are incredibly challenging times and our community was extremely responsive and kind. So much generosity and gratitude! The post generated lots of traffic that in a few days my garage was full of donations including food, clothes, shoes, bedding, blankets, strollers, toys, children’s books …. you name it!

“My problem at that point was lack of space and suddenly like an angel, a lady passed by to donate clothes and approached me: ‘I want to help you, what do you need?’ My answer was I need more space. It turned that she could share her garage with us. Then, the next day, we moved all boxes to Dorothy Fadiman’s house, which became our headquarters.

“Likes attract likes. Another big-hearted angel, Jane McCarthy, donated food every Wednesday. She never missed a week since then. She and her husband provided not only food, but also shelves, tapes, bags, lights, fans, boxes, dressers, and so more.

“I reached out people from other localities such as Palo Alto, San Carlos and Redwood City to find out how they were doing during this time and to identify their needs. My name was added to various WhatsApp and Facebook support groups. When people from these groups contacted me, I asked some information about the family in order to customize donations (I self-denominated: ‘boxes of joy’) according to their necessity. Children always receive in addition to clothes, toys and books. Pregnant women receive everything from diapers, stroller, mattress, dresser, bedding, blankets, toys, maternity clothes to books.

“When the family needed something larger, like furniture, I searched on Nextdoor and coordinated the pick it up. When home schooling started, we had to deal with the challenges of virtual school. I realized that families don’t have computers or even internet access. Jane McCarthy, very sensitive to the issue, acquired five Chromebooks and through Nextdoor we were able to receive four more. There are many funny stories that I could share, mixed with some heartbroken feelings.

“I have not traveled this far without my friend, a sister of my heart Alice Cekleov, as we worked together the whole time. Being more than a hard worker and stablishing public relation by contacting people asking for donations, she was pivotal to our project. I have always kept in mind that what I am doing up to now is not only providing clothes and food, these families need attention, they need to know that someone cares about them. I try to motivate and make them feel special.

“I follow up after a week or two, asking if they are okay, and if they need anything else. A feeling of joy sparks every time they share a picture of them wearing the clothes given, or their children playing with toys and even bedding they received from us. When we do something good for others, we are doing it for ourselves. We are blessed because we can help, instead of asking for help. We see significant distress and discouragement from the chronicity of the pandemic, length of shelter-in-place, and no clear end in sight. We should acknowledge the importance of being there for each other, and encourage everyone to show each other and, most importantly, themselves some compassion. We will need to continue to rely on each to navigate these challenges.

“We need to show each other patience, encouragement, and gratitude!”

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