This holiday season, Cheryl Hsu has a lot to be grateful for. In November, the Carmel Valley resident launched an effort called 92130 Cares as a way to connect local families who had fallen on hard times due to the pandemic with other local families who were in the position to help.
The response was overwhelming and through a simple Facebook group, Hsu was able to connect 135 different families to each other to sponsor Thanksgiving dinners. All within the same zip code.
“It’s really been quite an experience and it really makes me feel so good,” she said.
The whole thing really happened completely by chance. Hsu, a mother of three young kids, had always involved her children in community service activities often working with organizations that serve communities in-need in downtown San Diego. With the holidays approaching and many service organizations unable to accommodate volunteers due to the pandemic, she was looking for some way to give back. She posted a message on the NextDoor app looking for somewhere where she could sponsor a local family for Thanksgiving.
“A woman sent me a personal message and said her family here in the community is really struggling during the pandemic and was looking for a place to get a Thanksgiving dinner and couldn’t find one due to COVID,” Hsu said. “She took a leap and asked if I could sponsor her family.”
Hsu found that the woman lived just five minutes away from her home in Pacific Highlands Ranch, in an affordable housing unit. In their communications with each other, Hsu asked the woman if she knew of other families that might need some extra help during these difficult times. The woman believed that she did.
With help from her new friend, Hsu sent out questionnaires in the low-income housing development, giving people the option to provide as much information as they felt comfortable sharing about their individual and family needs. Wanting to further expand her efforts, she reached out to other low-income housing developments in the Carmel Valley area, finding out their locations by contacting local home builders like Pardee Homes.
She then started the Facebook group to launch her first project: an Adopt-a-Family Thanksgiving Dinner, with help from a loyal group of willing neighborhood volunteers. In one month, the online group had bloomed to over 400 members and sponsor families were matched to families in need.
The connected families dropped off groceries or gift cards, some arranged to make home-cooked Thanksgiving meals to safely share. As Hsu said, she just set up the Facebook page and each volunteer family made it their own.
Many who have reached out to 92130 Cares for help are single mothers and many are seniors on fixed incomes —as Hsu discovered, many Russian-speaking seniors live in one Carmel Valley enclave.
“A lot of the families that are in need of support, they have never been in this situation before,” Hsu said of people who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or a household where a parent has been forced stay home to support online school for their children.
What she has come to realize with this project is that many people are just a couple of missed paychecks, a bad car accident or a serious illness away from being in the position where they might need some help as well.
Hsu has high hopes for 92130 Cares, beyond Thanksgiving and beyond just monetary support.
“I’m really hoping to build more meaningful, long-lasting relationships in our community, getting to know people you might not have otherwise known,” Hsu said. “That’s really what drives me in doing this.”
At a basic level after months of isolation, Hsu said some people are craving a sense of community and connection, both those who need an extra boost of support and those volunteers who have stepped up to help.
One person who reached out was deaf and was feeling incredibly isolated due to the pandemic—Hsu posted it to the Facebook group and then many people racked their brains and reached out to ASL speakers they knew. They were able to make a connection so their neighbor could have a conversation.
In another case, Hsu got a call from an elderly woman who had received a traffic violation for a rolling stop at a stop sign and was panicked because she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. Hsu talked her through it, did some research and let her know the ticket would be coming in the mail and how much she could expect to be fined. In another case, she helped a family that needed advice about noise complaints that were filed against them for their barking dog.
Hsu said another “beautiful” thing to come out of 92130 Cares is her next project, called My Neighbor’s Closet. As a lot of the families expressed a need for clothing such as winter jackets and shoes, Hsu’s group tapped into the community’s closets that are full of things their kids have outgrown.
“I found a woman, Liz Kubiak, who had an empty double garage in Carmel Valley, which is an impossible thing to have!” Hsu said. She put out a call for donations on Facebook and the garage is now busting at the seams with clothing, shoes, strollers and other household items.
A group of volunteers has been working sorting through the donations and staging the garage as a pop-up shop. Families connected through 92130 Cares will have the opportunity to come during the weekend of Dec. 4-6 to take whatever they need.
“It’s just been incredible, really quite a rollercoaster and snowball effect, all of this kindness that poured out of these projects,” she said.
Hsu, a lawyer now working from home, often finds herself staying up past midnight emailing people and coordinating 92130 Cares projects. She hopes to continue the family sponsorships through the holidays and she hopes that all of the Carmel Valley families will continue to deepen their connections with each other.
She also has a larger mission of bringing the community together.
“There is a wide discrepency in wealth and socioeconomic status in this community that isn’t very obvious,” Hsu said.
There are many neighborhoods of multi-million dollar homes and the affordable housing developments were planned to be integrated into the community but, as Hsu said, there has been no real integration or attempt to bridge that barrier. She wants to raise awareness for those people who may be opposed to low-income housing in their backyard: “These are hard-working people…They are families with kids and good people that we want in our community, that add to the diversity and richness of our community.”
Hsu had no idea when she asked a simple question just over a month ago that the answer she would receive would be so resounding, so heartwarming and so uplifting.
“The generosity of this community is just so….I’m at a loss for words,” Hsu said. “People just showed up, no questions asked, really out of the goodness of their hearts and willingness to help their neighbors. We’re so lucky to live here where there are so many good, kind-hearted people who want to help.”