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East Bay Social Worker's Generosity Bring Smiles to Those in Need

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- This week's Jefferson Award winner has worked in Alameda County social services for more than 30 years, but she goes above and beyond to bring smiles to the families who receive county assistance in their greatest time of need.

A simple gift overwhelms single father Eric Kovacevich. He's living in a hotel with his four kids after a neighbor's fire burned them out of their Hayward apartment.

"It's gets hard when you get put into a situation where you don't know what to do sometimes," said Kovacevich.

The commercial painter is one of about 200 fathers who received Father's Day gift bags filled with items ranging from ties to toiletries at a special event.

"It's such a wonderful thing that there's someone out there that cares," he said.

Andrea Ford heads up a growing group that does care.

For the last ten years, she's served as assistant agency director for Alameda County Social Services Agency's Department of Workforce and Benefits Administration.

It administers aid like CalWORKS, Medi-Cal, general assistance and CalFresh.

"We are known simply for issuing safety net benefits for the population we serve, so I wanted to humanize our role, and for our clients to see us differently and our staff to see each other differently," Ford said.

So along with her executive team, she has organized annual Father's Day and Mother's Day giveaways since 2016 at the Eden Area Multiservice Center in Hayward and three other sites in Oakland.

The Mother's Day event distributes new or gently used purses and tote bags along with gifts like toiletries, makeup and scarves.

This year, both events served 700 people.

All of the items are donated voluntarily by some of the 1,200 staff members Ford oversees as well as employees from other county departments which joined in this year.

Executive team member Hannia Casaw-Barnell says Ford's commitment to giving is contagious.

"She doesn't see clients by looking at a case number, for example. She sees the client as a person," said Casaw-Barnell.

And that's what touched Eric Kovacevich in his time of need.

"Sometimes you just don't know what to do. And when they help out in those little ways it's great because you know there's some kind of hope out there," he said.

"We want them to feel special," Ford explained. "We want them to walk away with dignity."

So for making social service clients feel special through Mother's and Father's Day gift giveaways, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Andrea Ford.

Ford and her team want to expand the events, so they're asking for retailers to help donate items for the annual giveaways.

Anyone interested in contributing to the Mother's Day "A Purse of Her Own" event, or the Father's Day "A Father Is... " event, can contact Alameda County Social Services Public Affairs Director Sylvia Soublet at Donations include such items as purses, tote bags, backpacks, toiletries and socks.

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