Mountain View Voice

News - December 14, 2012

A partnership sent from 'the heavens'

Day Worker Center teams with local Kiwanis chapter on Christmas tree lot

by Nick Veronin

Some might see it as simple supply-and-demand economics, but officials from a local chapter of the Kiwanis International and the Day Worker Center of Mountain View say it was something more akin to fate that brought their two organizations together in a partnership that appears likely to last for years to come.

This year, for the first time, the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos will staff its Christmas tree lot almost entirely with laborers recruited through the Day Worker Center. The partnership ensures that the Kiwanis will have the staff to run their lot for the 26th straight year while also guaranteeing many local day laborers steady work at a time in the year when odd jobs can be hard to come by.

The partnership began with a chance encounter between Eddy Hernandez — who regularly picks up work through the Day Worker Center — and Douglas Roberts, who had hired Hernandez to lead a crew of laborers on a project at his church. It was the first time that Roberts, a Kiwanis Club of Los Altos member, had used the DWC's services, and he was impressed with the results.

And so, when it became apparent that the Kiwanis would not be able to run its annual Christmas tree lot at 2175 Grant Road in Los Altos with a volunteer workforce alone, Roberts did not hesitate to recommend that his club look into using the Day Worker Center — one of seven local charitable organizations that will receive donations from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund drive.

"The match was already made and I just hadn't got the message yet," Roberts said, seeming to indicate that his organization was destined to eventually work with the DWC.

Striking a similar tone, Maria Marroquin, executive director of the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, called the partnership "heaven sent."

Every year, as the rains pick up, the temperature drops and the nights get longer, day laborers see a marked drop in the number of jobs available, according Marroquin.

"Typically, this time of year is really, really slow for the workers," Marroquin said. Unfortunately, she added, at the same time contractors and homeowners are putting their major outdoor projects on hold for the winter, those who rely on the income from odd labor jobs are very often paying higher electricity and gas bills, and also trying to scrape together enough money to put something nice under the Christmas tree for their children.

But by hiring day laborers to work at the lot — which is open from 3 to 7 p.m. every day until Christmas Eve — the Kiwanis are assuring that many of the local area's poorest working-class families will have a little bit of extra cash in their pockets.

It also makes Roberts' job easier when it comes to finding volunteers from the Kiwanis to work at the lot. It has been harder and harder to convince the waning and aging population of the Los Altos chapter to do all the heavy lifting at the Christmas tree lot — especially for no pay.

The lot will sell about 1,400 trees in less than a month's time — three full semi-truckloads worth of evergreens. "All of those trees have to be moved by muscle," Roberts said, noting that some of the trees weigh upwards of 300 pounds. "It's a big operation."

"It's an extremely physically demanding job, and the workers are strong people; they like to work hard," Marroquin said.

The DWC's executive director said she sees the partnership as a "great opportunity for both organizations," and that she hopes it will continue year after year. "I have high expectations, especially considering the results."

In addition to helping both the Day Worker Center and the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos, the Christmas tree lot is also helping local educational efforts, such as Partners for New Generations — also a Holiday Fund recipient.

In fact, Hernandez said, his daughter was able to become the first in her family to attend college thanks to money raised by the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos. Knowing that the money raised by the Christmas tree lot will ultimately be reinvested in the community has proven to be an additional motivating force for the day laborers working for the Kiwanis — many of whom, Hernandez said, want their children to be able to make money in a career, and not in the manner their parents have forged a living.

"This partnership is really beyond and above money," Marroquin said.

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