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Assistance League helps local college students with living expenses

Dental Hygiene Students” width=
Patti Chan/Special to the Town Crier
Three dental hygiene students pose on Foothill College’s campus. The Assistance League of Los Altos donated $10,000 to the Foothill-De Anza Foundation to support low-income students.

The Assistance League of Los Altos recently donated $10,000 to the Foothill-De Anza Foundation to help low-income students in Santa Clara County.

The money went toward purchasing $50 e-cards for students in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, according to Dennis Cima, executive director of the Foothill-De Anza Foundation. This is the second donation the Assistance League, which has served the local community for more than 60 years, has provided to the foundation.

Cima said the donation was critical because it went directly to students struggling with daily living expenses such as books, fees, food and housing. According to Cima, 88% of the students who benefited from the donation lived in a household of four or more people and made less than $36,000 per year.

“Many of our students are working and going to school, and a lot of our students are working in industries that have been decimated by the pandemic,” Cima said. “So, not only are they trying to live in Silicon Valley on their salary, now their job or their hours are reduced, or their parents’ hours or jobs are reduced, or their spouses’ hours or jobs reduced, or both. Now they’re really struggling again; their tuition and fees might be covered through the state of California, but their living expenses are not.”

When the pandemic began, food pantries offered drop-in services for food pickup, Cima said, but the service soon ended due to state and county
restrictions. He added that the Assistance League’s donation enabled the foundation to support students taking classes from home instead of on campus.

Breaking the cycle

Simon Pennington, Foothill College’s interim associate vice president of community relations, marketing and communications, said such a donation can change the lives of students, noting that the funds help them succeed in their studies, which breaks the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

“You might say that a card to buy food for $50 a week is not going to make a huge difference, but it can absolutely make a massive amount of difference,” he said. “It can mean the difference between success for students who get to continue with their studies and because of that, they break that cycle of poverty and move up into the middle class. ... It allows them to commit those hours to their studies.”

Pennington and Cima both said they have interacted with students struggling with rent or food expenses. Pennington noted that some of them were the best students he’s worked with. They included Matt Bodo, now attending UCLA, who was living in his car while he attended Foothill. He wasn’t the only student Pennington has seen in a dire situation.

“There are hundreds of students, just in our area alone, who are either living in their cars or couch-surfing,” Pennington said. “They are functionally homeless or quite literally homeless living in their cars, and so obviously we’re very invested in ways that we can support those students, to get them either subsidized housing connected with low-cost housing, or to just help them with basic needs.”

Pennington and Cima both acknowledged how difficult it is for students to succeed in school while trying to meet basic needs, and emphasized how important it is to support students financially as well as academically. That’s why they said they appreciate the generosity of the Assistance League and the community at large.

“We are blessed to have incredible investment in our community in the colleges, whether it’s through investments in infrastructure through bonds or other taxes or private donations from individuals,” Cima said. “We really are proud of the reputations that Foothill and De Anza colleges have, and they’re really the future of Silicon Valley’s prosperity – we want to take good care of them.”

For more information on the Assistance League, visit losaltos-assistanceleague.org.

For more information on the Foothill-De Anza Foundation, visit foundation.fhda.edu.

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