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WVCS check-2

Silicon Valley’s economy is booming, but pockets of poverty exist. Non-profit agencies that provide housing and support services to the low income and homeless say despite the region’s economic prosperity, they are seeing more families and youth in need.

“Life can change suddenly for anyone. When crisis hits, things happen and a family can become homeless,” said Kohinoor Chakravarty, director of Development and Communications for West Valley Community Services (WVCS).

At a meeting held in the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) office in Cupertino, Chakravarty said the agency, which serves underprivileged families and the homeless in Cupertino, Saratoga, West San Jose, Monte Sereno and Los Gatos, provides 672,380 pounds of food to low-income and homeless families and $167,829 in emergency assistance for rent, utilities and deposits. Its food pantry provides 1,223 individuals with groceries, household items, diapers and personal care items. The agency also has special programs that help families during the holidays and school year with holiday food baskets and shopping spree, its backpack program and back-to-school event, which helps over 100 children shop for clothes for school.

WVCS has also opened food pantries in De Anza and Foothill colleges for about 200 students who are homeless, with no food or place to live. “High rents forced their families to move out of the area, but these students chose to stay because they know finishing their education is the only way to get out of the cycle of poverty,” said Chakravarty.

Marie Bernard, executive director with Sunnyvale Community Services, told REALTORS® that homelessness and hunger in Santa Clara County are exacerbated by skyrocketing rents. One-bedroom apartments are renting for $2,542 on average, and two-bedroom apartment rents average $3,228.

“For many families, it’s a choice of rent over food,” said Bernard.

Like WVCS, SCS is the first stop for families seeking help. Last year, the agency helped 7,991 low-income residents, a 16 percent increase from 2015. The agency has also extended its help to the Alviso area, where there are many people who are underserved and families whose homes are red-tagged because their utility bills are backed up for six to eight months.

“Keeping people fed and housed is the best economic investment our county can make,” said Bernard. She said while it costs to feed and help the poor, it would cost more if the county did not provide the help.

Chakravarty and Bernard said the non-profits cannot provide their services without help from residents who volunteer to help sort the food and distribute them to needy families. Local grocery stores donate food to their food pantries.

“Without volunteers uniting behind us, we cannot do this work. You can make it happen because you are our community,” Chakravarty told the REALTORS®.

SILVAR’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District, through the Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation, has donated $750 to West Valley Community Services. The donation will be used to purchase backpacks for WVCS’s Back-To-School Backpacks program. Pictured above with the big check are Cupertino/Sunnyvale District tour director Mark Burns with Chakravarty.







The Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation donated $93,000 in 2016 to non-profit organizations that help the homeless and low-income individuals and families in Silicon Valley. Funds this year also went to scholarships for graduating seniors from public high schools in the region.

The Charitable Foundation is a trust which makes grants available to organizations from donations by REALTORS® and affiliate members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR). In addition to voluntary contributions from members, grants are funded by proceeds from the local trade association’s district fundraisers, like the Los Gatos/Saratoga District Annual Bocce Ball Tournament and the Los Altos/Mountain View District Annual Pumpkin Auction. SILVAR represents over 5,000 REALTORS® and affiliate members engaged in the real estate business on the Peninsula and in the South Bay.

The 2016 Charitable Foundation grant recipients include Adolescent Counseling Services, which provides a network of skilled family therapists and support groups for teens and young adults in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties; Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which seeks to provide stability to children who have experienced abuse and neglect; East Palo Alto Kids Foundation, which promotes educational opportunities for students in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park; Friends of Deer Hollow Farm, an educational farm located in the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve; JustRead, a cross-generational program composed of retired professionals who teach reading and writing basics to students who did not learn these skills in earlier grades; LifeMoves, which provides services to enable the homeless to return to stable housing and self-sufficiency; Westwind 4-H Riding for the Handicapped, which provides children with disabilities the opportunity to have fun while improving their coordination and strengthening their muscles; and Youth Community Services, which provides service learning and leadership activities to underserved students in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

From money raised to support further education for U.S. veterans, the Charitable Foundation presented $10,000 each to Palo Alto University and West Valley Community College, and $25,000 to Foothill-De Anza Foundation, an auxiliary organization of the Foothill-De Anza Community Colleges District for the creation of “The John Tripp – Silicon Valley REALTORS® Veterans Scholarship Endowment.” The late John Tripp was a veteran of the Korean War and past president of SILVAR and the Charitable Foundation.

As part of its annual scholarship program, the Charitable Foundation presented a $1,000 grant to each of 18 graduating seniors from public high schools in Silicon Valley. The foundation has been assisting students with the scholarship grants for the past 17 years. SILVAR’s districts, through the Foundation, also donated $6,195 raised at the annual Los Gatos/Saratoga District Pumpkin Auction to the Family Giving Tree for Operation Reindeer; $1,350 each to the West Valley Community Services and Sunnyvale Community Services backpack programs for needy students and $1,000 to the Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation raised by the Cupertino/Sunnyvale District; and $1,797 raised by the Los Altos/Mountain View District at its spring and fall Legal Updates to Community Services Agency.

“It has become more costly to live in Silicon Valley, so we thank our members for being so generous in supporting the foundation year after year,” said Eileen Giorgi, president of the Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation. “With our members’ continued support for and contributions to the communities where they work and live, we are able to continue our commitment to the welfare and prosperity of these communities.”


Some sectors of Silicon Valley may be prospering, but there is another side to the valley, that of individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. Their number is rising, according to non-profit agency officials, and striking is these days is more among the needy are younger clients, many of them students.

At last week’s Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) Cupertino/Sunnyvale District tour meeting, Marie Bernard, Sunnyvale Community Services (SCS) executive director, said in response to the rising need, SCS has deepened its programs and will be extending services to those in need in the Alviso area.

SCS helps over 7,000 residents in the Sunnyvale area with food, in-kind assistance and financial aid. Bernard said SCS is very focused on the young and seniors – 39 percent of SCS clients are under the age of 18 and 14 percent are seniors.

Every Monday, the agency distributes 30 to 40 pounds of free fresh produce to an estimated 900 families. Clients are able to pick up for additional bags of nutritious food to help stretch their budgets a little further. SCS also provides children school meals throughout the year, including the summer months. In addition to all these, the SCS has a food pantry program, where families can shop once a month for meats, dairy items, canned food, household supplies, paper products, and more.

The nonprofit provides emergency financial assistance to low-income Sunnyvale residents who have been hit with an unexpected expense, like a major car repair, medical bills and other emergencies that can throw them off their budget.

“We help those who are one bill away from being homeless,” said Bernard.

Bernard explained by the time residents come to the SCS for help, they are already strapped with loans. Many are victims of payday lenders who charge interest rates as high as 459 percent on an annual basis, and owe these lenders thousands of dollars.

Kohinoor Chakravarty, director of Development and Communications for West Valley Community Services (WVCS), painted the same sad picture of the plight of the needy when she presented an overview of the agency’s services at the SILVAR district REALTORS® tour meeting last May.

Like SCS, WVCS is a non-profit, community-based agency that provides direct assistance and referral services to needy individuals and families. Clients served by the agency reside in Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, West San Jose and the unincorporated mountain regions.

Chakravarty noted the agency is seeing many students who are homeless and hungry. There are 200 students from De Anza College who are homeless. Their families cannot afford the rising rents in the area and have moved away. The students have chosen to stay so they can finish their studies. Since they cannot afford to rent an apartment, some couch surf; others live in their cars.

“It’s a sad situation,” said Chakravarty. In response to the rising needs of homeless and hungry students, she announced WVCS will be establishing food pantries at the De Anza and West Valley community colleges.

Currently 1,614 individuals are served through the WVCS food pantry and 770,515 pounds of food are distributed to clients. There are 231 individuals enrolled in food stamps, free/reduced lunches and health insurance.

WVCS also provides $100,615 in emergency financial assistance to 69 households. Among the agency’s special programs are its holiday food baskets, which are distributed to 212 needy families; holiday shopping spree serving 593 families; and its Back-to-School event, which helps 120 children shop for clothes for school.

In addition to the opening of the food pantries at the community colleges, the WVCS executive director announced the agency will be starting a mobile care service. With a newly acquired vehicle, the agency will be dropping off basic food and health services to its beneficiaries, since many clients travel two hours to receive the services.




October 2017
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