When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Santa Clara County to mandate everyone stay at home in March, SJ SHIP Kits provided a box of items like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, nonperishable food, and even jump ropes and puzzles for working families that found themselves suddenly unemployed.

The nonprofit was the brainchild of Gary Dillabough and Jeff Arrillaga, whose development company Urban Community seeded the nonprofit startup with $100,000 and provide the use of the old San Jose Armory — an event space that wouldn’t be hosting events for a while — for volunteers to assemble the boxes. Word got around and business partners sprouted with a desire to help out.

SAN JOSE, CA – NOVEMBER 19: Eric Glader of SJ Ship Kits is photographed inside the San Jose Armory on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. The nonprofit partnership headed up by Glader has been distributing packages of donated goods, everything from hand sanitizer to boxed pasta, during the pandemic. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Sports teams like the San Jose Giants and San Jose Sharks contributed fun stuff for the boxes, Voyager Coffee and Academic Coffee also contributed, and Gordon Biersch Brewery and Frank-Lin Distillers signed on to produce the hand sanitizer (an idea that actually started with San Jose State University Vice President Charlie Faas).

“We did a stellar job of raising money at a time when the landscape was tight,” says Eric Glader, who has led the project for Dillabough, a longtime friend. “In the early days of shelter in place, it was a saving grace to have something to devote our energies to.”

Eight months later, though, COVID-19 is spiking again, businesses are again having to close and most of the state is under a nighttime curfew. And while SJ SHIP Kits (SHIP stands for SHelter In Place) is no longer a shiny, new venture, it’s mission is more important than ever and it’s expanded its capabilities in a whole new direction: fresh produce. The nonprofit has secured more than 950,000 lbs. of produce — that’s about 800,000 meals — for food banks in the Bay Area.

Glader suspects the need for SJ SHIP Kits’ work will continue — if not increase — in the coming months, but he doesn’t know how sustainable the future is. “We’re hopeful that we can be an ongoing entity for the year. The enthusiasm is definitely there,” he said. When South Bay businesses were largely shut down early in the pandemic, there were a lot of volunteers available and donations were strong. But as things began to open up in the early fall, neither situation remained as true. “Money is the biggest constraint,” Glader says.

But, Glader hopes, there’ll be enough corporate, foundation and individual support to keep SJ SHIP Kits going as long as the pandemic lasts. (You can get more information or donate at sjshipkits.com.)

“When I see people who can and do help, it gives me a lot of respect for the individual,” Glader said. “This work has provided me a focus and a way to stay positive.”

TURKEY TROT ACROSS AMERICA: If you’ve got some excuse for not participating in this year’s virtual Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, don’t tell Meri Maben. The education manager at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation has 35 members of her family scattered across North America taking part in the virtual run. That includes two toddlers, and infant and a dog named Luna.

Maben explained that her brother’s family lives in Colorado and her sister’s is in Canada. “Every Thanksgiving part or all of our families convene at our home in San Jose to celebrate the holiday and share family memories,” she said. “We get together because of our commitment to maintain family connections and with hopes that the next two generations of children and grandchildren will continue the tradition.”

But pandemic traveling was out of the question this year, so having everyone take part in the Turkey Trot from their respective homes seemed like the best way to share a family experience and continue a holiday tradition. The family will put on their shirts, send photos and share a Zoom call later in the day. There’s still time for your family — even if it’s not as big — to register for the race — and run or walk it when you want to between Nov. 21 and Nov. 29 — at www.svturkeytrot.com.

GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND: Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez plans to recognize individuals who have done more than their part to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic with the countywide President’s Medal for Exemplary Service, as well as a Supervisor’s Medal to individuals and a County Service Medal to businesses and organizations in the county’s five districts.

“As we face the challenge of this new spike in COVID-19 cases, we need to appreciate how much we came together as a community this year, and recognize those individuals and groups who have provided extraordinary service and effort during the pandemic,” Chavez said.

You can read the award guidelines and make nominations through Nov. 27 on Chavez’s district website at www.sccgov.org/sites/d2. I’ll be joining Chavez, County Executive Jeff Smith and Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Nicole Taylor on the selection committee, and the awardees will be recognized in a virtual ceremony Dec. 14.

MOVIE SNACK BAR TO-GO: CineLux Theatres owner Paul Gunsky says the company enjoyed welcoming back guests to its seven Bay Area theaters while they could, but operations are back on “pause” to comply with local and state regulations. But during what Gunsky hopes is just a temporary closure, CineLux is hosting take-home concession events every Friday and Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at its Morgan Hill and Almaden locations.

People can buy discounted concessions for family movies nights at home, pick up gift card deals on Black Friday and know that they’re helping to keep CineLux’s employees working. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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