PESCADERO (KPIX) — Living in the rural areas of southern San Mateo County’s coast can be isolating and challenging, especially for poor families who are still learning English. This week’s Jefferson Award winner heads up the region’s only community resource center.

Farmworkers in the area can get a ride to Pescadero Community Church for a family-style home-cooked meal.

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The free, weekly event known as La Sala, is a long-running program of the 23-year-old nonprofit, Puente de la Costa Sur.

“It’s festive, it’s friendly, it’s safe,” says executive director Rita Mancera Hernandez. “People know it’s a place where they know they are welcome.”

Mancera Hernandez has headed up Puente since 2016.

The organization serves 2,500 people — farmworkers, undocumented immigrants, and other low-income people, in Pescadero, La Honda, Loma Mar and San Gregorio.

The family resource center provides what many people need for daily living — from farmer’s markets and food giveaways, to programs in financial education and aid, health and wellness, and youth leadership.

“We’re really that bridge between where they are now and that place where they’re most sustainable with their families,” said Mancera Hernandez.

Farmworker Cristobal Cruz says Puente provided clothes, ESL classes, and medical assistance.

Today, he gives back as a board member.

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“It means a lot not only for me but my whole family,” Cruz said.

And volunteer Yesenia Zerratos is grateful for financial support and food over the years.

“Good support not only for my family but for the community,” Zerratos said.

During the pandemic, Mancera Hernandez says Puente’s outreach and partnership with other community groups have made a big difference.

At least 90 percent of agriculture workers on San Mateo County’s South Coast are vaccinated against COVID-19 as a result, she said.

Development director Alejandra Ortega says the nonprofit can successfully meet needs as they arise because Mancera Hernandez is open to new ideas, whether it’s starting a COVID relief fund for undocumented families or a co-op child care center.

“She’s a great advocate,” Ortega said. “She’s there to listen and evaluate, ‘Okay, what can we do to provide this service?’ ‘Where can we get the funds from?’ ‘Who do we need to talk to?'”

Mancera Hernandez, herself an immigrant from Mexico, finds great reward in serving others.

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“This feels like the right thing to do. I love what I do,” she said.