As a content specialist on Cisco’s Corporate Affairs team, I had researched and written about issues that vulnerable populations face during crises, and I wanted to take action. Unemployment due to school and work closures can lead to a loss of housing for families who are already living paycheck to paycheck. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 20 million people temporarily or permanently lost their jobs in April 2020 alone.
I learned there was a need for virtual volunteers to help out with the Santa Clara County COVID-19 Financial Assistance Fund. Cisco offers its employees Time2Give, where we can take off 40 hours per year to volunteer. Over two weeks in late April, I used 18 of my Time2Give hours to process financial assistance applications.
Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service established the COVID-19 Financial Assistance Fund to help people and families facing a financial crisis because of lost jobs or wages, illness, or school/childcare closures. Cisco committed $10 million to the fund, which serves vulnerable, low-income residents of Santa Clara County, California, where our headquarters are located. Residents with a documented loss of income related to the virus could apply to get financial assistance to help pay rent or meet other basic needs.
Erin Connor, critical human needs portfolio manager for Cisco Corporate Affairs and the Cisco Foundation, shared why this partnership is so important, “Our partnership with Destination: Home and commitment to addressing and preventing homelessness is embraced and championed by so many of our employees. Cisco made a significant investment in the COVID-19 Financial Assistance Fund, and this volunteer engagement was a tangible way for employees to contribute – while sheltering in place – and help Destination: Home and Sacred Heart get money out the door faster to people who desperately need it.”
Coming together to help community members
First, volunteers attended a training to learn more about our role and how we would assist with applications. Honestly, it felt a little daunting at first, especially since you know that the work you are doing is so important to people’s lives. You want to make sure you are doing everything correctly. The first application that I processed took nearly an hour as I meticulously went through each step from our training. After I became more comfortable with reviewing applications, it took around 20 to 30 minutes. During this process, there was a lot of support from those who work at Sacred Heart and Destination: Home, and even fellow volunteers who work at Cisco.
It was emotional to hit the “submit for approval” button after reviewing an application. It may seem like a routine task, but it represented so much more. On the other end of any urgent request for assistance is someone worried about their future. It is a parent whose children are out of school, and they no longer have childcare. Or a gig worker who could no longer support his family due to less work. Knowing you can help relieve some of that pressure through financial assistance makes you realize how important it is to come together during difficult times.
According to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey, nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. aren’t able to cover a $400 emergency. No one could predict the impact that the global pandemic would have on our local community. Still, it is reassuring to see local government, nonprofits, and corporations come together to help our neighbors.
The group of Cisco volunteers that I worked with processed a total of 408 applications, helping disburse over $1M that will go back into the community and help low-income residents.
“We are so grateful to have a partner like Cisco, who continues to step-up in so many different ways during this crisis,” said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home. “Their support has truly made it possible to help thousands of struggling families and individuals – but, sadly, we know there are tens-of-thousands more still in desperate need of assistance. During this time of unprecedented need, every company must play a role in supporting the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Personal Impact: Stories from those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic
The funds have been given out to people who need them – from gig workers to those working in the restaurant industry, salons, and fitness centers. Here are a few of their stories about how it helped:
Maria is a single mom of three and a former server at a chain restaurant. After she got a letter that she was laid-off from work, Maria applied for unemployment, but she needed income right away. Maria didn’t even have money for groceries. She was moved to tears when she got the news that she would receive financial assistance.
Mateo is a truck driver at a small transportation company and the father of three children. He is the head of the household while his wife stays at home to care for the children. When he was laid off, it led to stress and financial uncertainty. After reviewing his financial situation, Sacred Heart awarded him financial assistance to meet his family’s immediate needs.
Rachel is a new mom who was on maternity leave since December. She works as a manager at a fitness gym. She was supposed to go back to work in mid-March but was unable to do so due to California’s shelter-in-place order. Also, her Family Paid Leave expired, and she could not reapply. Rachel heard of the financial assistance program on TV and didn’t believe it was real. She applied and received the funding she needed.
Preparing for the next round of assistance
For the first round of assistance, the unprecedented level of need was significantly higher than the amount of available funding. There were around 4,600 applicants for assistance within the early days of launching the fund, and have seen close to 13,000 additional households added to their Interest List. The second round will focus on assisting our lowest-income residents who have been ineligible for other forms of assistance.
If you can, please consider donating to the Financial Assistance Fund to help the most vulnerable members of our community.
Interested in virtual volunteering? We encourage individuals to pursue the following virtual volunteering opportunities with these Cisco suggested nonprofit organizations.