Community Involvement, COVID-19, Rehabilitation

Valley State Prison focuses on COVID‑19 relief efforts

By Lt. David Barksdale

Those who live and work at Valley State Prison (VSP) have been doing their best to help others in need. From making masks to gathering supplies for veterans in need, the staff and incarcerated men at VSP continue to demonstrate CDCR’s commitment to community involvement.

Two women stand beside a wooden flag sign. One woman holds a Minion figurine.
Correctional Counselor II Elizabeth Alva, left, delivers Minions to local hospitals. The figures were created by incarcerated men at VSP.

Minions Project

During the COVID-19 pandemic, under the leadership of Warden R. Fisher, Jr., VSP) Youth Offender Program (YOP) participants remain active in their rehabilitation while adhering to CDCR’s protocols for physical distancing. Activated in January 2017, the YOP provides offenders under the age of 25 with enhanced rehabilitative opportunities, including one-on-one peer mentoring, during a critical time in their lives.

Under the supervision of YOP Coordinator Correctional Counselor II Elizabeth Alva, in partnership with VSP’s Community Resources Manager Carmen Maroney, YOP participants are using their time productively to cultivate empathy and appreciation for people in the community. As a way to honor those impacted by the novel coronavirus, including people who have contracted the virus and the healthcare heroes who are on the frontlines, YOP participants are creating paper Minions.

Minions are the mischievous little characters from the Illumination movie franchise that includes Despicable Me and Minions. The Minion project is intended to bring joy, cheer, and hope to people in a very difficult time. In turn, the process of making the Minions provides a fun and meaningful outlet for YOP participants — a means of giving back to the communities they have harmed.

Cesar Gonzalez, a YOP graduate and the Minion project trainer, said, “I love doing this. I’m worried about my family out there, but making the minions gives me purpose. I feel like I’m making a difference by showing appreciation to the people who are helping others. This is my way to help. It brings me a lot of joy.” 

Small teams of YOP participants under the age of 25 and their mentors are engaged in the Minion-making process, which involves cutting paper to appropriate sizes, folding each piece, and painstakingly assembling the folded components according to the pattern. Each Minion consists of 2,000 pieces of paper.

Located in Housing Unit C1 and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) trailers on D Facility, the members of the small teams practice physical distancing and wear masks as they manufacture Minions.

Local hospitals received the completed Minions from Alva.

YOP mentor Paul Galloway said, “This is a way for me to support the frontline heroes out there who are making huge sacrifices in the face of the pandemic. I hope the Minions bring a smile to someone—some relief and happiness to them during these stressful times. The Minions are a way for me to continue my amends.”

Ronald McDonald statue with bag full of masks. The statue is also wearing a mask.
Valley Children’s Hospital received a delivery of masks.

Mask effort

The San Joaquin Central Valley PPE Challenge was created to help with the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic. VSP staff and community volunteers came together to help provide masks to hospitals, clinics and human services agencies. 

VSP reached out to staff and our community seeking people with sewing, hobby or arts and crafts skills to join us to provide free PPE to those on the front lines.

As a result, VSP, stakeholders and Central California Women’s Facility, ensured the mask donation effort was a success. Sponsored by the non-profit agency, Teens That Care, many came together to help by sewing, donating fabric and funds to meet the need. Roughly 2,400 masks were donated. VSP staff who generously volunteered their time or donations included Danilo Grajalas, Ricki L. Dooley, Jennifer Quintero, Elizabeth Alva, Heather Betts, Debbie Andersen and Lisa Tsang.

Some of the front line providers and care agencies who received masks included Orchard Neighborhood Senior Care Madera and Fresno; Madera County Sheriff; Madera County Probation; Madera Rehabilitation and Nursing Center; Golden Years Senior Facility in Madera; Cedar Creek Senior Living Center in Madera; Chowchilla Memorial Healthcare District; Fresno and Madera Hinds Hospice; Madera County District Attorney’s Office; Madera Sealed Air Corporation (manufacturer of containers for ventilators and COVID-19 tests); Early Head Start Program, Community Action Partnership of Madera County, Inc.; Housing Authority adult and children’s programs; Sierra Terrace Senior Facility; and Oakmont Senior Facility, Fresno.

Woman stands in front of Fresno Housing Authority building while holding a bag full of face masks.
Masks were donated to local agencies and organizations.

Habitat for Humanity Partnership

To provide care packages to those in need, VSP joined efforts with the Habitat for Humanity Great Fresno Area, COVID-19 Emergency Essential Delivery Program, in partnership with Wells Fargo Bank and the Fresno Poverello House Shelter.

This effort responded to the most vulnerable who are sheltering in place during the COVID-19 Pandemic by providing free essential household cleaning supplies, emergency food supplies and complementary home inspection.

As a result, VSP staff and inmates were able to donate handmade Minions, over $400 in cash, food and other supply donations. VSP received a donation from Doug-Out Cookies of Fresno, who in turn donated to the Habitat For Humanity Emergency Essential Delivery Program by providing over 1,400 baked cookies for the families who were directly impacted by COVID-19. Volunteers worked to assemble care packages and VSP was able to join in on the delivery of some of the packages which went to over 20 families in Madera and many more in Fresno County.

Bottled water and canned food in the back of a pickup truck.
Valley State Prison donated supplies to veterans organizations.

Helping area veterans

VSP was able to donate over $500 in cash and food including canned beans, salsa, chips, sodas, bottled water and other supplies. These donations were designated for various programs within veterans services agencies that provide food, housing support or utility payments to needy veterans and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These efforts were coordinated with Deb Riordan of the Central Valley Veterans through Annette Wholaver, the Local Interagency Network Coordinator of the California Department of Veterans Affairs in Fresno.

Women make up approximately 10% of veterans in the United States and nearly half of our nation’s 2 million women veterans are of child-bearing age. To support women veterans welcoming new babies into their families in 2020, VSP provided donations to the Women Veterans Baby Shower in May 2020 which helped new moms by providing baby items and increasing knowledge and use of VA services through collaborations with community partners like VSP.  CDCR staff donations included diapers, baby blankets, baby wipes, toys and infant clothing.