Jefferson Award Winner Leads Pacifica Resource CenterBy Sharon Chin

PACIFICA (KPIX 5) Pacifica represents 5% of San Mateo County’s total population, but now is home to 18% of the county’s homeless, according to a homeless count completed last year. Kristina, who does not want her last name used, is part of that 18%. She has been living out of her car in Pacifica for the past two years. When it rains, she and her dogs shelter in a makeshift bed in the back seat, struggling to make it through cold nights.

Food is also hard to come by, so Kristina relies on the food pantry at the Pacifica Resource Center, located just blocks from the beach, in an area filled with modest homes now worth millions of dollars.

Pacifica Resource Center Executive Director Anita Rees says the center serves about 400 people a month, all folks like Kristina struggling to make it. The center has been open for 44 years but under Rees’ direction, it has grown its donor base, become its own independent non-profit, and added services to help not only Pacifica’s homeless, but also low-income families that live in the city. In fact, Rees says one in ten Pacifica residents qualify for some or all of the Center’s programs.

Once a young single mother on welfare, Rees worked hard, and became the first in her family to earn a college degree. Now, she brings empathy and support to help others achieve their dreams, even sleeping in her car with other homeless participants as part of Pacifica’s first pilot homeless shelter program. But it’s the small, yet innovative changes Rees has brought about that have caught the eye of both the center’s board and its clients. Since taking helm in 2010, Rees has also added a new computer lab so that clients can search for jobs and potential housing leads. Rees also started free tax preparation and financial coaching programs. A new matching funds program, again instituted by Rees, encourages clients to save their tax refunds.

But it is the center’s new shower room that makes the biggest difference in many client’s lives. Kristina uses it weekly, taking advantage of the free toiletries and clean towels — both small luxuries that make a big difference in her outlook.

“It’s a lift to us, like we can put our head up high,” explained Kristina about the shower room. “We have more courage, more determination.”

For Rees, helping people in small ways is her way of remembering those who helped her.

“Sometimes folks can come in here feeling hopeless and helpless,” explained Rees. “And leave feeling they have support from somebody.”

The Pacifica Resource Center relies on grants and private donations. And Rees is quick to point out many ‘Pacificans’ donate to the center on a regular basis.

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