"The center was having a problem with lack of jobs for people who were over 60, 70 years old. So we were thinking of teaching a new skill where (workers) can learn to make their own clothes and sell them. That's where the idea came from," said Olivares, who uses patterns for the class from her own online store selling clothing and accessories for pets.
Olivares said there are tentative plans to hold a craft fair at the center, and then sell the pet clothing through local boutiques, animal shelters and other area festivals. The sales would help workers earn money, plus raise awareness about the center and reach possible employers.
"If they are buying the clothes, they are actually helping out people who have been working here and giving back to the community," she said.
Sewing classes are the latest of many programs offered at the Day Worker Center. Other services include health clinics and classes on a broad range of topics such as English as a Second Language, computers and art.
The center, entering its 24th year, serves 650 workers each year, according to Executive Director Maria Marroquin. About 65 workers come to the center every weekday; Marroquin said that the seasons, in part, determine how many of them find jobs each day.
"In the spring and summer, we are getting short on workers," Marroquin said. "Also, most of the jobs that workers perform are outside."
Winter tends to be slower, though workers help staff events such as the German Holiday Market or the Kiwanis Club's Christmas tree lot, and those add up to about 1,000 hours of work each, Marroquin said.
The center operates on a budget of $400,000 — funded largely by private donors and the faith community. The Day Worker Center is one of seven local nonprofits benefiting from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund. Donations to the fund are divided equally among the organizations, and, thanks to the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 100% of the donations go directly to the seven recipient agencies.
Serving an increasingly diverse population is shaping up as one of the more recent major challenges for the center, as it has meant stretching already limited resources further.
"That is a precious gift from God because we are able to serve a diverse community, but it's also very challenging, because culturally the thing that's appealing for you may not be (as appealing) for others. It's really a privilege to be working here and serving the community, but it's not easy," Marroquin said.
Many more homeless people have sought work at the center, according to Marroquin, who noted that homeless workers can face additional hurdles in finding employment, such as inadequate sleep or limited opportunities to bathe.
Often, older workers are no longer able to do the physically demanding jobs for which many employers come to the center. Sewing classes, along with catering work, are among the center's programs that aim to address that.
"I insist on the importance of supporting people who are getting older," Marroquin said. "So we're just trying to encourage the idea of entrepreneurial activities. In the meantime, they are waiting here for work, and then later they can sell (the clothing) just to make some money with the time they are waiting here."
Lopez and Rodriguez, who are now brushing up their sewing skills, have worked a variety of jobs through the center. Lopez has done a variety of cleaning, cooking and babysitting, and Rodriguez has done a lot of handyman work, gardening and cleaning gutters. Both Lopez and Rodriguez had some experience in sewing before taking this class, too, but are applying their skills in a new way. Lopez worked in a bridal shop in Mexico before going to nursing school and Rodriguez helped out a friend who had a small business that involved sewing.
His sewing knowledge has come in handy, he said, to mend clothing. "I fix my pants and shirts. And sometimes my friends say, 'fix this.'
"I don't know, now, maybe it's a business," he added with a smile.
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