LAST WORD: The sounds of our city

Karen Goh

This article was first published in The Bakersfield Californian

From childhood, I’ve always loved the sounds of the holidays – the sound of thankful hearts, the sound of laughter as friends and families gather together, the sound of Christmas carols declaring “joy to the world.

This year, while the expressions of the holidays might be somewhat altered, the true sounds of the season cannot be silenced, and neither can the sounds of the heart of our wonderful community.

I love the sounds of our city. They’re unique to a community that’s known for its people with grit who collaborate and care for each other with generosity. The sounds of Bakersfield span all seasons. In a year like no other, these sounds of caring and generosity have amplified even louder.

We rang in 2020 with our city’s first Mayor’s Ball, a black-tie gala to benefit the nonprofit CityServe. Not only was it Bakersfield’s and my first Mayor’s Ball, it was CityServe’s first fundraiser – a challenging first. In true Bakersfield fashion, an undaunted volunteer committee persevered to create a sold-out, spectacular night that exceeded all expectations. Donors contributed more than $270,000 to fund the transportation of semi-truck loads of goods-in-kind from Costco National, Amazon, and other large retailers for families in need.

But who could have imagined the timing and impact of that splendid evening of philanthropy on our community? In March, the disconcerting sounds of the pandemic began to silence activities – curtailing annual fundraising events for critical needs throughout our city. Businesses, schools and churches closed. Soon the crescendo of cries for basic necessities peaked as never before. And Bakersfield responded.

The Bakersfield community historically has come together in times of need. The COVID-19 crisis brought out our best – heightening our spirit of collaboration, caring and generosity. Every sector of our community joined together to help. CityServe stepped up as an exemplary collaborator and relentless mobilizer of volunteers.

For the first 10 weeks of the pandemic, CityServe partnered with Community Action Partnership of Kern to provide volunteers daily to facilitate drive-thru food distributions at five local high schools each week: 10 weeks, 50 days, over 500 volunteers, 6,000 volunteer hours, 8,750 boxes of food, 306,250 pounds of food and 1,450,000 meals for our community.

In April, CityServe collaborated with founding partner Dignity Health, Sonder, The Mission at Kern County, Bakersfield Homeless Center and St. Vincent de Paul on Operation BBQ Relief to serve 46,000 meals. Dedicated volunteers from churches boxed and delivered 16,800 of those meals.

A month later, through the generosity of the Ravi and Naina Patel Foundation, CityServe began an ongoing partnership with Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center to distribute 200 boxed meals daily to the hungry. Church congregants have since delivered more than 25,000 nutritionally-balanced meals prepared by CBCC’s Health & Wellness Café.

The summer months yielded additional sources of food. Working together with founding partner Adventist Health, CityServe distributed 10 pallets of high-protein soup mix to food insecure areas of our community. Since June, after being named by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a “Community of Faith and Opportunity,” CityServe has been receiving loads of fresh produce, dairy and meat products through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. CityServe has brought into Kern County 41 semi-trucks, 63,765 boxes and has served 42,291 families through this program.

Our community’s ongoing partnerships and generous financial gifts enable CityServe to continue to purchase groceries and fund the supply chain of goods-in-kind. Its growing partnerships have extended beyond food and basic supplies.

Bakersfield celebrated the birth of a new educational partnership as CityServe, the County of Kern, Employers’ Training Resource, Bakersfield Adult School and industry partners joined Bakersfield College’s Project HireUp to provide a job skills program for marginalized persons struggling with life issues. Thirty-eight students from The Mission at Kern County, Bakersfield Homeless Center, Garden Pathways and M Street Navigation Center have graduated and have had opportunities for mentorship and employment with the project’s industry partners. With the success of the initial cohorts, the CityServe Educational Collaborative Center anticipates the expansion of its certificate offerings.

CityServe and the multitude of other community partners resound with the music of a city that truly cares. Our beautiful melodies cannot be silenced by a pandemic, civil unrest or political discord. Rather, we will mute those clamorous sounds as we continue to sing together in synchronicity and harmony.

During a period of great turmoil in our country and personal loss, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words of the beautiful Christmas carol: “I heard the bells on Christmas Day their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

As we welcome the holiday season, may the united voices of our city resonate with the hope of peace on earth, good-will to men.

I love the sounds of our city. I’m grateful for the privilege of being part of our choir.

Karen Goh is the mayor of Bakersfield.