CASTRO VALLEY (KPIX 5) Josepha Aleman shares a one bedroom apartment with her 9-year-old granddaughter and 4-year-old grandson. She couldn’t afford decent mattresses for both children, so she’s been sleeping on the couch while the kids sleep in her bedroom. But now all three get their own beds, thanks to Ray Harris, the man behind Castro Valley Outreach.
“Oh he’s an angel,” Aleman said, her voice breaking. “This is big, big angel for all families. Not just for me, for everybody.”
“Not only did we get them a bed,” Harris explained, “We got them gift cards for food, and so we don’t have to worry about the kids coming to school and they are hungry.”
Harris launched Castro Valley Outreach 23 years ago to help families in need during the holidays.
“There was about 50 families that first year,” Harris remembered. “So we gave them food just before Thanksgiving and food just before Christmas. In 5 to 8 years, we were helping over 100 families.”
Harris was inspired to give back to the community when his kids were in school. They collected toys and clothes during the holidays and donated them to other cities. He recognized that the some of the families most in need were right in his own backyard in Castro Valley.
Plus, Harris himself remembers what it was like to be in need:
“When I was a kid, my mother, my brother and sister, we were on welfare,” Harris added. “People helped us. That’s always been in the back of my mind.”
Harris relies on local schools to let him know if there is a family in need. His only requirement is that they must have kids in the Castro Valley Unified School District. Guidance Counselor Emma Ruiz refers families to him.
“The interesting thing about Castro Valley is that there is a sense that there isn’t a need because of our demographics,” Ruiz said. “But there is a level of need that is unnoticed.”
School computer support technician Susie Moran also helps connect families to Harris.
“It gives the people a sense that he cares — that even though he doesn’t even know me, he cares,” she explained.
Harris said, “It’s for the kids. Anything you can do to help kids is a great thing for our country. They are our future.”
So for helping families with basic necessities, whatever they may be, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ray Harris.
If you want to help Castro Valley Outreach help people in need, call Ray Harris at 510-889-7743. If you are a Castro Valley family in need with children in the Castro Valley Unified School District, contact the school principal or a teacher. All requests are confidential.