By Melissa Lewelling, Senior Account Executive
In a region with increasing disparity in wealth, I am one of the statistics that (by logical rhyme and reason) shouldn’t exist.
I remember standing in the fog of the early morning before kindergarten waiting for the Salvation Army to open so we could eat that week. I remember “shopping” in a donation warehouse for clothes because we couldn’t afford new pants. I remember how it felt to be completely dependent on the generosity of others in order to survive until the next day.
Raised by a single mom on welfare in a seedy part of Downtown San Jose, my neighbors growing up were often drug dealers and gang bangers or pedophiles on parole. The neighborhood park was more akin to a homeless encampment, and I aged out of my school library in fourth grade because they couldn’t afford books at a higher reading level. When my mom’s terminal illness turned for the worst, I could’ve entered foster care at 14. When she died after my freshman year of college, my dream of being the first in my family to graduate could have too.
My whole life is a testament to what can happen when organizations like Sacred Heart Community Service (SHCS) step into a family’s reality and give them reason to tangibly hope and dream for more — whether it’s by meeting the needs of today with food and clothing, or helping to guide their tomorrow toward success with career training, parenting classes, free after-school programs for kids and an environment filled with people who genuinely care.
Working at The Hoffman Agency, we have the amazing opportunity to organize an annual volunteer day, and this year we visited SHCS. For three hours, we handed out produce, sifted through donations and helped families and individuals find the clothes, blankets, and socks they needed.
“My favorite part of the day was seeing smiles span the faces of men, women and children of all ages as they were welcomed into a space specifically designed to nurture people from all backgrounds, no matter their circumstance,” said Jaime Hamilton, one of our account coordinators at Hoffman. “I was able to forget about everything that was happening in my life and the world outside of that building and focus on the human connection that we all share!”
For some of us, it was the first time volunteering at a donation center. Yet the way SHCS allows families to come in and actually choose what they would like to eat or wear — rather than receive a random package with things that may not be useful for their current situation — struck a chord of dignity and gratitude with everyone.
“I was genuinely happy when I helped someone find the clothes they needed,” Cecilia Zhong, an account executive at Hoffman, said. “Like another volunteer at the center said, ‘When you provide a personalized experience to someone in need, that is the most rewarding part.’ It really is.”
When asked about her favorite part of the day, Kiana Cacchione, our newest account coordinator of three weeks, said it was honestly every part. “From working in the pantry to randomly chatting with people passing by, everyone at Sacred Heart was so welcoming and kind. It was hard not to smile at everyone I encountered. I wore a neon pink sweater while volunteering because I thought it would brighten people’s day. Apparently it worked because I received so many compliments that my face often turned the color of my sweater.”
Bonnie Lamb, our veteran in-house editor shared a similar sentiment: “I love our volunteer days! We get a chance to work together for the benefit of the community and take a step back from our privileged routines to help those less fortunate. Brings joy to my heart!”
Just like last year, the sentiment from all volunteers involved was a tired body, but exuberated heart. Kelly Trom, a senior account executive who has been with Hoffman for nearly four years, captured this feeling in her enthusiastic support of company-wide volunteer days, which she noted as “absolutely” valuable — to both the community and the company itself.
“Whenever we get a chance to get outside the office in our community, it’s always so rewarding and beneficial for morale,” Kelly added. “Especially in the PR industry, late November and December is always such a busy time with CES preparations going full force. Getting the opportunity to take a step outside the tech world and make at least a little difference in our own home base of San Jose, where there is so much need, is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.”