Holiday Volunteering Activity at The Heart of Silicon Valley

by Melissa Lewelling, Senior Account Executive at The Hoffman Agency

When you think of today’s tech-infused world and where it started (i.e., Silicon Valley), what comes to mind?

Maybe it’s the shiny new Apple campus or Google’s colorful bikes gliding around a spacious campus with cafeterias, gyms and nap pods. Maybe it’s the tiny startups with three passionate engineers hoping to change the world with their inventions. Maybe it’s the expensive housing market where modest, middle class homes sell for a cool $1 million+ — and all the young people wondering if they’ll ever be able to afford one.

For many who don’t live in the area, and even for some who do, it’s easy to glamorize the unknown with pictures of what is known: shiny high rises, new developments, large tech companies.

But for what used to be known as “the valley of heart’s delight,” bursting with orchards of fruit trees not too long ago, the Silicon Valley has increasingly become a dichotomy of wealth, middle class struggle and poverty the way any other big American city does (San Jose is, after all, the 10th largest in the nation).

In this rising contrast between those who work in the tech sector and those who do not, sometimes the outlook seems grim:

  • In June 2017, Santa Clara County officials counted more than 7,300 homeless people — a rise of more than 800 in just two years.
  • Since 2015, the number of unaccompanied homeless individuals under the age of 25 has increased by 185 percent — accounting for more than one-third of the overall population (that’s more than 2,500 young people, to be exact.)
  • In September 2017, a study of six Silicon Valley high schools found that one in six students is either in unstable housing or knows someone who is.
    • The result? More than 17 percent of San Jose’s high schoolers are couch surfing with their families, or even temporarily separated from them, and in serious danger of ending up on the streets.
  • Just last week, the San Jose City Council approved a plan to build 40 “tiny homes” to help ease this growing wave of poverty in one of the country’s richest areas. However, it’s been met with intense debate as homeowners worried about their own housing value and debt in such a cut-throat market express their concerns — the Hepatitis A epidemic sweeping through California’s homeless population as well as the safety and sanitation of their neighborhoods. That gives rise to a “fine, but not near me” mentality in a city with few open development areas remaining.

While some might feel overwhelmed by these obstacles, nonprofits like CityTeam are working tirelessly to do all they can to meet the needs of not just the homeless (including those with addictions), but also families and elderly individuals faced with the monetary choice between housing or food this month.

As citizens of this city, our office felt compelled to lend a helping hand in any way we could this holiday season too. So our spirit committee hustled to contact several nonprofits that could use a group of eager elves wanting to help bridge the gap — and we were excited to shuttle half of our San Jose HQ employees over to the CityTeam site to do just that.

We proceeded to work a three-hour shift in CityTeam’s Community Services department, where we handed out fresh produce to struggling families. Each of us was responsible for sharing an item from one to three giant bins of tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, pineapples, watermelon and more; with some of our stronger teammates physically assisting recipients to their cars with overflowing bags or boxes of food.

It was a beautiful experience to get to play a small part in the hands spinning the wheels of healing and hope in our city — even if it was just for a day. Because when everyone gives just a little bit — a little bit of their time, a little bit of their resources, skills or talents — it becomes a lot in the whole scheme of things.

At Hoffman, we are blessed with a collaborative, nurturing environment that enabled us to get out there and be a part of the action; but the needs go on.

How can you lend a helping hand today — to help make this area a beacon of more than just silicon, but of hope, love and nourishment for all?

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