SV generosity continues despite economy

Non-profits enjoy fundraising success despite downturn
The South Valley isn’t impervious to the slumping economy, which
has become a juggernaut, wiping out jobs, decimating public
services, cutting back or eliminating health care and curtailing
charitable giving.
Non-profits enjoy fundraising success despite downturn

The South Valley isn’t impervious to the slumping economy, which has become a juggernaut, wiping out jobs, decimating public services, cutting back or eliminating health care and curtailing charitable giving.

But the feeling of “community” that permeates the region south of the Coyote Narrows has gone a long way in providing on-going financial and in-kind support for South Valley people and programs in need.

“It’s always been that way. People here were giving long before the Garlic Festival because they care about the quality of life and they care about each other,” said Donna Pray, executive director of the Gilroy Foundation, who’s been in the area for 30 years. “It wasn’t that way in Menlo Park where I grew up.”

It’s not only Pray’s foundation, which spends $30,000 annually in interest from an endowment on recreational, cultural, educational, health and civic programs that enjoys the generosity of South Valley residents, whose wallets and purses seem to be always open.

Even as the economy has suffered, South Valley non-profits have raised tens of thousands of dollars this summer – most recently $35,000 Saturday for a Morgan Hill day workers center – to supplement their budgets as demand for services has increased.

The beneficiaries are many. Schools offer extracurricular activities, homeless families find shelter and food, underprivileged children go to summer camp, an organized hiring plan for day workers takes shape and teens recovering from drugs or alcohol learn that someone cares.

“We see a lot more need in South County than elsewhere,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage. “Look at our demographics. We have good people, but many just don’t have much money. I’ve been blessed in that I’ve always had a job to support my family. But others don’t, and your heart goes out to them. If you have the means, there’s nothing more satisfying than giving from the heart.”

Even with the increasingly tighter economic times, South Valley businesses and individuals continue to come through. Their largesse isn’t penny ante, either. Week in, week out, beneficiaries find themselves $10,000 to $60,000 richer following a fundraiser.

Wine tastings and dinners, golf tournaments and auctions — silent and live — are the most popular means of raising money. Those making it happen sponsor golf tournaments, donate items or professional services for auctions and give cash donations.

Some sponsors, for an extra donation, send a limousine for their guests. Others offer unusual twists such as freezing semi-precious stones in ice cubes and mixing them with regular ice cubes. For an extra donation, guests scoop cubes from a container, hoping to find a blue topaz, pale-green peridot or deep-red garnet.

“The generosity we’ve received has been overwhelming,” said Mary Smathers, director of the Charter School of Morgan Hill, which netted $53,000 from a dinner and silent auction last month. Two full orthodontia treatments – from start to finish – offered by the same professional brought a total of $9,500 in bids.

“Education of children is easy to support. In that sense, we’re in the right place,” Smathers added. “But this is a small community where anonymity disappears. Families see each other at the market or do things together.”

Groups large and small, many of them laboring in anonymity for the most part, expect nothing in return, Pray said.

“They’re not looking for notoriety or pats on the back,” Pray said.

Lisa DeSilva, director of communications and resource development at the social services agency Community Solutions, said fundraisers are becoming an important part of agency budgets.

“It’s a challenge to support programs in an economy that is suffering. We rely more than ever for our discretionary funds on activities such as these,” DeSilva said.

Community Solutions netted $50,000 from a sporting clays tournament in May sponsored annually by ex-San Francisco 49er Randy Kirk. Sporting clays offers shotgun-wielding marksmen a chance to fire at targets that pop up along a course in the Coyote Valley.

“I think most people are looking for a way to help their community in a meaningful way as a volunteer, sponsor or donor. It allows them to become connected on the front end to the services that their generosity provides on the back end,” DeSilva said.

Eleanor Villarreal is the spokeswoman for Rebekkah Children’s Services, which provides 39 programs on at two junior highs and five elementary schools, reaching approximately 1,100 children. The programs provide tutoring and counseling on such topics as drugs, alcohol, violence and relationships.

Scouring the community for funds is like running on a treadmill, Villarreal said.

“There’s a lot of need, and it never stops. We have to raise the money because there’s no government around to help,” Villarreal said.

A fundraiser a week ago, Villarreal said, brought in $29,000 through silent and live auctions. Prizes included a one-week stay each in Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas and the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. Airfare was included.

Villarreal said there are core groups that consistently support fundraisers, adding, “Imagine what would happen if more people got involved.”

A golf tournament this summer at CordeValle netted $60,0000 for Advent Group Ministries, which provides drug and alcohol recovery services for teenagers, most of them 14 to 18 years old.

“We don’t invite celebrities. CordeValle is a huge enough draw in itself,” said executive director Mark Miller. “South County is still small enough that I think there is a leftover sense of community ownership that translates into support for programs such as ours. Our tournament, which is our biggest annual fundraiser, attracts people who care about the work we do and who come to help, not just to play golf.”

On the other hand, celebrity golf – mainly football and baseball muscle – is how Ken Moreno attracts participants to his Heart to Heart fundraiser, which sends 100 disadvantaged youth to a variety of summer camps.

“I go strictly first class,” said Moreno, a semi-retired developer.

Moreno, who lives in Gilroy, has two major sponsors, Atlantic Concrete of Gilroy and Cupertino Electric.

“If I didn’t do this for the kids, someone else would have to,” said Moreno, whose summer campers are referred to him by churches and other organizations.

The generosity of South Valley organizations and individuals extends to recipients whose lifestyle is completely foreign to them. A dinner, silent auction and raffle last week netted $35,000 for the operation of a center to organized the hiring of Hispanic day workers, who throng around the corner of Main Avenue and Depot Street in Morgan Hill looking for odd jobs.

Efforts by members of the St. Catherine Church parish to help the day workers evolved slowly to include other churches and finally a sampling of the entire community. In their official capacity, city council members earmarked $50,000 in redevelopment funds to renovate a building for the day-worker program. Individually, council members led by colleague Hedy Chang worked to make the fundraiser a success.

The Morgan Hill Rotary Club counts on the golf tournament it sponsors annually to pay for its programs, according to Steve Tate, who was in charge of this year’s outing, which raised slightly more than $30,000.

“The golf tournament is our major fundraiser and our budget is predicated on what we raise,” Tate said.

The club, Tate said, gives $12,000 annually in college scholarships, sends a half-dozen teenagers to a Rotary youth leadership program each summer and sponsors an annual dinner to honor senior citizens. The three major programs, plus a number of smaller causes, benefit residents in greater Morgan Hill.

“These are tough times to be out there raising money,” Tate said. “But people in the South Valley continue to respond. I don’t know what the formula is, but it’s great.”

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