COVID-19 has brought change everywhere. It has dramatically affected how nonprofits serve some of our most vulnerable citizens. We asked several beloved local nonprofits how they are adapting to the pandemic. We found plenty of resilience and innovation as they not only adapt to continue providing services but develop new services to address new needs brought about by the pandemic.

Canal Alliance

Canal Alliance: Critical Support for a Community Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

The pandemic is taking a devastating toll on the lives and livelihoods of Latino immigrants and their families. In Marin County, Latinos comprise 16% of the population, yet account for 80% of coronavirus cases. In response, Canal Alliance has pivoted to offer all of its programs virtually and to better serve the Latino immigrant community, it developed and implemented a comprehensive crisis response. Canal Alliance:

  • Ensured its Social Services team has been on the front lines of the response, helping clients and community members access resources and support, and making referrals to its licensed behavioral health specialists to address elevated levels of stress and trauma.
  • Quickly transitioned its Immigration Legal Services (ILS) department to virtual operations and cloud-based case management. Almost overnight, ILS was operating as a virtual law office. Unfortunately, the pandemic highlights the many digital barriers its clients experience: Most lack access to the internet and do not have laptop or desktop computers; many are not proficient with the use of technology, making tasks as simple as taking a picture of a document and sharing it via email difficult and incredibly challenging. In light of the pandemic’s dramatic impact on its clientele, Canal is constantly evaluating methods to be more mindful of trauma and the fact that clients are now having to reveal very personal and sensitive information over the phone. As a result, it offers some in-person services when needed.
  • Continues to provide legal outreach and education through its Know Your Rights and Public Charge initiatives, especially important in light of relentless immigration policy changes.
  • Adapted its free weekly food pantry to implement health protocols and now distributes groceries to a record 500 families each week.
  • Partnered with the county to offer free, on-site coronavirus testing for 10 weeks, and continues to provide case management for clients who test positive for the virus at Marin Community Clinics in order to link them with resources and treatment.
  • Hired and trained bilingual Promotores de Salud to provide health outreach and education, and hired five bilingual community-based contact investigators, who received training through UCSF and work in partnership with the Department of Public Health.
  • Raised and distributed $2.2 million in direct cash assistance through its Client Support Fund to help families purchase groceries, diapers, medication and pay for other urgent needs.
  • Launched a Financial Assistance team to partner with the Family Independence Initiative to rapidly distribute cash assistance to community members through direct bank deposit.

Learn more about Canal Alliance’s many programs or volunteer or donate by visiting its website.

Legal Aid of Marin

Legal Aid of Marin Tips the Scales Toward Justice during COVID-19

Legal Aid of Marin has been busy since the beginning of the pandemic, not just directly assisting clients, but also advocating for necessary legal protections for the greater Marin Community, and working in partnership with Canal Alliance, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Community Action Marin, Vivalon (formerly Whistlestop), Phoenix Project, and many more organizations to provide much needed legal services. As the most vulnerable people in our community are disproportionately endangered by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, the demand for legal services has increased dramatically.

As the only free civil legal services provider with offices in Marin, Legal Aid of Marin’s mission is to provide access to the civil justice system to low-income, vulnerable and otherwise underserved residents of Marin County. It helps clients stay in their homes, recover lost wages, reinstate driver licenses, draft wills, and secure essential safety-net benefits.

Much of this work it does through the generosity of pro bono volunteers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marin lawyers have volunteered hundreds of extra hours of legal services. For example, volunteer attorneys helped two Spanish-speaking families obtain monetary judgments against their unscrupulous landlord for serious housing habitability violations; another volunteer helped an African American young man in a successful claim against his auto insurer for bad faith denial of coverage.

Pro bono volunteers (the editor of this publication among them) also assist seniors 60 and over with general estate planning advice as well as other legal concerns they face. And through the expertise of Legal Aid’s growing staff, it is now able to take on a limited number of elder abuse claims. When an 80-year-old West Marin woman was sued by an unscrupulous contractor who overcharged for unapproved remodeling work, it negotiated a fee reduction over $100,000.

Since not long after the pandemic began, Legal Aid has been able to provide legal consultations every Tuesday morning outside Canal Alliance’s offices. It is also sharing outreach with food pantries in West Marin and Novato to respond to legal questions from food insecure tenants and workers. But perhaps more than anything else, it has brought together a legal team of its own legal staff, pro bono lawyers, volunteer law students, interpreters, and bilingual legal assistants to answer the huge volume of desperate tenant calls. The dire plight of so many tenants led Legal Aid’s attorneys, in partnership with Marin Organizing Committee, to advocate successfully for local rent moratoria and other protections. And it is now assisting in pro per parties in Marin Court remote hearings with eviction mandatory settlement conferences.

The long-established commitment of the local bar, judges, and community partners to the provision of free legal services led Legal Aid to help create the Marin Pro Bono Network. A collaboration among Marin Community Foundation, One Justice, Legal Aid of Marin, and Canal Alliance, the Marin Pro Bono Network connects attorneys to pro bono opportunities appropriate to their expertise and interests. You can also visit Legal Aid of Marin’s website to learn about how you can help us provide life-changing equitable access to justice for all Marin residents, or email Helen Castillo to volunteer.

Learn more about Legal Aid of Marin at

LITA: Love is the Answer

Forty-five year old Marin nonprofit LITA (Love is the Answer) has the mission to improve the quality of life for older people. LITA’s volunteer programs do this by helping to reduce isolation and loneliness. This isolating pandemic has revealed people’s need for connection more than ever and LITA is working hard helping many older adults who have not been able to receive visits from family and friends since March.

LITA had to find a way to protect the physical health of the older adults it serves—and of its volunteers and employees—while fulfilling their need for loving human connection. LITA has adapted their programs:

  • Caring Connections: Launched in September in collaboration with Vivalon (formerly known as Whistlestop), LITA matches volunteers to visit with isolated and lonely homebound individuals in their private homes. Current visits approved by the Department of Public Health are outdoors with people at a distance with facial coverings.
  • One-to-One Connections: LITA matches volunteers with care facility residents for weekly in-person visits. While these visits are not allowed in person now, some volunteers are connecting with residents by video chat, by phone, or through letter writing. Sometimes, they will do activities together like read aloud, or play word or trivia games.
  • Bridging Thru Music: Our volunteers bring engagement through music performances, sing-a-longs and lessons. LITA’s YouTube channel includes volunteers performing and leading singalongs with large-font captioned lyrics. Residents can watch volunteers bake, conduct tours, take virtual walks and read poetry. Some care facilities are now allowing outdoor performances.
  • Memory Care Buddies: This program focuses on those with dementia residing in Memory Care units of facilities and is currently on hold.
  • Pet Connections: Volunteers have visited long-term care facilities with their pets, primarily dogs. During the pandemic, LITA’s most popular YouTube video is remarkably one of Inga, a black Labrador, who has been a popular pet visitor.
  • Family Connections: An entire family will ‘adopt’ an older person to visit. LITA strongly encourages families to stay in touch during the pandemic by contacting their friend online, by mail or phone. In one case, a family created homemade cards. The mother, an artist, and her daughter, undaunted by her own physical mobility constraints, made beautiful cards with inspiring messages for their LITA friend.
  • Bridging Generations: During a typical school year, this program is fun to watch as elementary school children are paired off with one or two retirees. Because most schools are not yet meeting in person, this program has been on hold for the past few months. However, several young people are organizing efforts on their own through LITA. For example, a group of children made homemade Halloween cards, and a LITA high school volunteer created Letters of Comfort, through which high school students have sent over one thousand letters to older people!
  • Seniors in the Park: LITA organizes trips to Marin County parks where older people enjoy being outdoors in nature. Often all of LITA’s programs come together for these events, which include music, snacks, and nature talks. When these trips were halted, LITA created a virtual workbook to bring love of nature and the parks to facility residents. This program is supported by Marin County Parks.

It has not been easy for LITA to adapt to a changing environment, but according to Tanya Mendoza, LITA Director of Volunteers, “There is always a way to create human connection. This involves thinking outside the box and embracing the technology designed to help us to do this.” Barbara Brown, LITA’s new Executive Director says, "LITA is grateful for our amazing and talented volunteers. They bring a spirit of love, compassion and kindness to older people, along with their expertise, even during a pandemic.”

Learn more about LITA at

Marin Child Care Council

Founded in 1979, Marin Child Care Council (MC3) works to improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of quality child care throughout Marin County. It provides support to child care providers through trainings and advice; to low-income clients through subsidies for child care; and to parents through referrals to child care providers. MC3’s work has continued through the pandemic with the provision of reliable child care resources and referrals, as well as social and emotional support, nutrition, and physical activities.

When the County Health Department issued its shelter-in-place order in March, many child care programs continued to operate in some capacity to serve essential workers. When emergency pop-up child care was implemented, MC3’s state-funded child care programs were the primary centers to open for nurses and doctors. Several of the county’s family child care homes and a few centers also remained open. Over the past several months, many more have chosen to re-open, but only after serious contemplation, planning and program changes. It is a highly stressful time for the early childhood education community as educators and caregivers balance their own personal and family safety while striving to provide as safe, secure and high-quality an environment as possible for the children and families they serve.

Since March, MC3 has spent over $500,000 on grants for child care providers throughout Marin County and has recently distributed an additional $1 million in small grants to child care programs thanks to a large grant from the Marin Community Foundation and support from First 5 Marin. In addition to its regular programs, MC3 has:

  • Provided trainings for trauma-informed care;
  • Organized food banks to help feed the children;
  • And set up drive-through handouts of critical supplies (masks, wipes, sanitizers, air purifiers, touchless thermometers, bleach).

As the pandemic is still with us and the first vaccines will likely not be widely available for at least several months, these needs—and their costs—will continue well into the future. No one knows what the final effects of the pandemic will be on the child care field, but MC3 will be there for the community, advocating and providing support.

Learn more about MC3 at

North Marin Community Services

North Marin Community Services: Stepping Up in a Crisis

In March 2018, the Marin Lawyer profiled North Marin Community Services. While the name was brand new, the nonprofit had been serving vulnerable people in Novato since 1972. Both the name and the organization resulted from a strategic merger in 2018 between Novato Youth Center and Novato Human Needs Center. Little did NMCS know the intense challenges that would ensue in just two short years.

But it was well-positioned and ready to provide its anti-poverty services when the pandemic hit, with a team of 290 (60 staff and 230 volunteers) and a growing budget of $4.4 million supported by diverse revenue sources. Over its last fiscal year, the organization provided basic needs support (housing, food, childcare) to 8,400 people, an increase of 40% from the prior year. Since sheltering in place started in March, NMCS has helped even more people who are struggling. This increased service has been possible because of its strong infrastructure, committed and experienced staff and volunteers, and dedicated contributors and partners.

NMCS has many excellent programs helping those in need. As an active member of VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster), it mobilized quickly to ensure all programs continued to operate either virtually or on-site. Since the pandemic began:

  • Its emergency rental assistance program has prevented homelessness for 1,331 low-income seniors, adults and children, a 275% increase from last year;
  • Its Tuesday food pantry was converted to a drive-through to continue operating during the pandemic and prevented hunger and food insecurity for 2,022 people (672 households);
  • Its teachers have been providing quality childcare, enrichment and remote learning five days a week to 75 children of essential workers;
  • Its mental health clinicians have supported 1,200 people by providing therapy in-person and through Telemental health (Zoom for Healthcare), a vital service as more and more people struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation;
  • Its Promotores Program has 17 community health advocates working directly with the Latinx and immigrant communities to connect people to all available public and private resources, including COVID-19 testing, the largest program of its kind in Marin County.
CEO Cheryl Paddack noted that NMCS’ legal service partners are also key to this work, and thanked the Marin County Bar Association members for the important role they play. One of NMCS’ goals is to help break intergenerational cycles of poverty within families, particularly through a commitment to offer diverse, inclusive services, and help correct systems of inequity and injustice. Over half of its staff are bilingual and bicultural and serve clients in a culturally sensitive manner.

NMCS believes that good, hard working people sometimes fall upon difficult times and need a helping hand. CEO Paddack says, “We’ve seen firsthand how access to health care, food, emergency rental payments, financial assistance, quality education and affordable childcare can change the trajectory of lives for vulnerable people in our community. Our doors are always open to welcome and provide hope to people in challenging times and in times of celebration.”

Learn more at NMCS' website.