Peninsula nonprofit dedicated to helping families is now in dire need

The St. Francis Center in Redwood City has been helping the working poor for more than 30 years.

But now the center is suffering from financial problems. St. Francis is hoping to raise $230,000 to continue serving the community. 

"I'm kind of feeling like right now the assister—that would be us—needs some assistance in order to continue helping at the levels we've been helping in the past," said Sister Christina Heltsley, the center's executive director. 

Although Heltsley is a nun, the center is a nonprofit and not affiliated with the church.

Like many nonprofits during the pandemic, St. Francis is seeing all-time highs in the number of people needing help. But the center's main source of funding for its programs comes from rent. 

The center operates 135 units of well below-market-rate apartments in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood and downtown Redwood City. But with many tenants out of work due to the pandemic, the center is feeling the effects.

"Normally, they pay. They pay right on time. They're amazing. But right now they just don't have it. Consequently, our operating costs are in danger," Heltsley said. 

Those costs include running its food program, GED, and youth center. But that's not where the center plans to put the majority of the money it raises.

"I would pay the rents of these people in arrears. Carrying debt for the families that we have is crazy. They are already living paycheck to paycheck. So having debt and expecting them to catch up is inconceivable."