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Pasadena Unity Center Sees 3-Fold Increase in Services During Pandemic

Published on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 | 11:05 am

A charity dedicated to keeping food on the tables of Pasadena-area families, as well as providing other vital services, has seen a three-fold increase in clients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has also seen an upswell in generosity from the community, representatives said.

About 68 percent of all the families receiving services from the Foothill Unity Center were new to the program this year, according to data released by the organization. More than 8,100 individuals had received services in 2020, ranging from food and diaper packages to health care and housing.

“We basically saw this huge increase because people were laid off,” Foothill Unity Center Capital Campaign Manager Julie Swayze said.

Home deliveries of food to seniors and people with disabilities quadrupled this year to 3,014 in an effort to reduce the exposure of vulnerable populations to the novel coronavirus, she said.

As the pandemic has dragged on, so has the need, Swayze said.

“We are still seeing a huge increase in seniors and people who are accessing services for the first time,” she said. “We don’t see this ending anytime soon, because the economy has not bounced back and the pandemic is not going away.”

But Swayze said the organization and its small army of dedicated volunteers are ready.

“We’re also a community action agency, so we are basically a branch of FEMA. So disaster is kind of what we do,” she said. The pandemic has caused Foothill Unity Center to activate a similar “rapid response” as if there had been a fire, earthquake, or some other disaster.

Services are specifically tailored to those receiving them, according to Swayze.

“So our homeless clients receive food that does not need to be cooked. And our clients who are housed receive food that can be cooked,” she said. “It’s also based on the amount of people in your family.”

Other supplies, ranging from diapers to dog food, are also provided to people in need.

“We also have a pet food bank because if you can’t afford to buy food, you’re probably having a hard time buying cat food, dog food or bird food,” Swayze said. “So we have a huge pet food bank that has litter, toys, cat and dog food and everything imaginable… it looks like a little mini kiosk from PetSmart or something.”

The Foothill Unity Center marked its 40th anniversary this month.

“We’ve been serving 12 cities in the San Gabriel Valley for 40 years,” Swayze said. “We are primarily a food pantry, but we do health services, social services, and housing, whether it’s temporary rapid rehousing or Project Roomkey for the homeless.”

“Our clients are basically the working poor. These people can have two jobs and still, they are people living below the national poverty level,” she said.

While the level of need in the community has grown tremendously amid the pandemic, so has the community’s generosity.

“We’re actually seeing an uptick in donations from individual donors,” Swayze said. “Our local foundations have been just tremendous.”

There are people who are in industries that are not affected by this who are able to give, and they have in the San Gabriel Valley,” she said. “I must say that I love our donors because they stepped up.”

The Foothill Unity Center has raised more than $4 million of it’s current $6 million target goal, representatives said.

In the coming weeks and months, Swayze said the Foothill Community Center expects to remain busy.

“We are anticipating, as our economy is not turning around quickly, that it will probably be the same until next spring. And so we still will be here, serving the community,” she said. 

For more information, including how to make a donation to the Foothill Unity Center, is available online at

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