Jazmin Sosa knows the power of the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund to help families breathe a little easier.
As operations manager for the nonprofit Ravenswood Education Foundation, which aids the six schools of the Ravenswood City School District, Sosa's well-acquainted with the hardships facing the East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park students.
According to her organization's 2018-19 annual report, 45% of enrolled students are homeless, which also includes children experiencing housing instability. In addition to these students, 89% of Ravenswood district's students come from low-income families.
"We define homelessness as not (having) stable or consistent housing, shared housing (such as) three families living in two bedrooms, families who have a curtain in the middle of a living room or families in RVs," Sosa said.
But with a $7,500 grant from the Holiday Fund this past year, the foundation's "Homeless Support Initiative Project" was able to provide children in unstable housing with clean clothes, including — for some — white shirts and blue or khaki pants that fit their school's dress code. So far this year, 120 students from 61 families received gift cards to stores such as Target and Old Navy to purchase clothing.
Gift cards, Sosa said, are "a great way to financially support these families while also giving them the options of what it is they want to get."
This approach not only cuts out the need to go through vendors to purchase uniforms or for families to go to school storage rooms full of clothes that might not be the right size, but it also gives families a little more agency and independence in their lives.
"So rather than getting a used T-shirt, a used uniform or just a uniform that they might not really like, they can go to Target or Old Navy and just go purchase it," said Sosa, who personally drove out to the stores to buy gift cards each filled with $50.
Being able to choose their own clothing is important to students, as is owning enough articles of clothes so that students are not wearing the same ones to school every day. According to research by Georgetown University's think tank Future-Ed, having access to clean clothes can significantly increase students' attendance.
"Our kids deserve it," said Jenna Watchel, executive director of the foundation. "The need is really great here in the community."
The Ravenswood Education Foundation is just one of the 57 local nonprofit organizations that benefited from the Holiday Fund this past year. Generous donors last year contributed a record-setting $411,000.
This week, the Holiday Fund is launching its 2019 campaign with a goal of raising $400,000.
Since 1993, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has distributed $7.2 million to nonprofits throughout the Palo Alto area that are helping children, families and individuals to excel through better education, live full lives with disabilities, ease their hunger, receive critical medical care, recover from trauma, gain life skills and more.
Among the donors last year were foundations and one family who provided matching gifts to encourage others' contributions: the Hewlett and Packard foundations ($25,000 each), the Peery and Arrillaga family foundations ($10,000 each) and an anonymous family ($100,000).
Because the Palo Alto Weekly and its partner, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, pay for all of the costs of running the charitable drive, 100% of every donation — which is tax deductible — is distributed directly to a nonprofit serving Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
As in years past, the 2019 campaign got a financial kickstart with the proceeds from the Weekly's annual Moonlight Run in October, which was supported by eight corporate sponsors.
"I'm so proud of this annual community effort," Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said. "The $25, $50, $100 donations build this fund. They represent the diversity of the community and speak to the shared belief in the power of everybody trying to do their share to the extent that they can.
"And I'm grateful to the nonprofits and their staffs who are doing the work day in and day out of walking alongside our friends and neighbors, giving them the helping hand and the tools they need to overcome hardship and make the most of opportunity.
"I welcome everybody to help us carry forward this vision again this year and to show our strong support for those in need," he said.
More information about the impact of the Holiday Fund, including stories about funded nonprofit agencies and instructions for donating online, can be found here.