Keeping the South Coast warm in winter

This winter, Bay Area residents have navigated from one crisis to the next. The season started out with record below-freezing nights in early December, the temperatures so dangerous that several homeless men died of exposure. Now an unprecedented high-pressure front heralds the worst drought of the last 100 years. And while most people remark on the weather only in passing, these extremes make a huge difference to farm workers living on the coast. The drought imperils their livelihoods. And the frigid temperatures imperil their health.

Puente can’t make it rain, but we can help local workers and families stay warm at night. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our donors, Puente was able to distribute more than 400 blankets to the people who needed them most. That’s nearly half of all residents in Pescadero.

And not just blankets. This winter, Puente received a gift of special cold-weather undergarments, like t-shirts and long underwear, from the Japanese fashion company UNIQLO.


Farmworkers at La Sala with UNIQLO shirts

“It’s just another example of how people rally in many different ways for Puente,” says Kerry Lobel, Puente’s Executive Director.

UNIQLO is a major brand, with a popular flagship store in San Francisco and two other Bay Area stores on the way. In 1984, Fast Retailing, headed by Tadashi Yanai, opened the first UNIQLO store in Hiroshima, Japan. Since then, the brand has evolved from a chain of roadside stores to an international leader in style, quality, and fun. Jean-Emmanuel Shein, Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility Director for UNIQLO, was introduced to Puente by a mutual friend at the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, Executive Director James Higa. When the weather turned devastatingly cold, Shein figured folks could benefit from clothes with UNIQLO’s patented Heattech technology – extra-thin garments that help the skin preserve heat in the winter.

More than 100 farm and nursery workers, men and women, received the undergarments at a critical time.

“I don’t know what these guys do, but I imagine that they get up really early in the morning, and it’s cold and it’s foggy, and they work in less than ideal circumstances,” says Shein.

The clothes were a hit. And they proved something Puente already knows to be true: that sometimes help comes from unexpected sources. When Lobel sent an urgent plea for blankets to the larger Puente community, her request resonated with people all over the country. Many sent checks if they couldn’t bring blankets. Others, like Pamela Eakins, forwarded urgently worded emails to their own networks. This had far-reaching effects. Puente is still seeing the results.

Pamela Eakins

Pamela Eakins’ email resulted in more than 100 blankets for Puente as well as many cash donations

“I realized, as part of this community group, that we can organize to meet people’s needs more effectively,” says Eakins, who asked dozens of people for help on Puente’s behalf. Those individuals, in turn, spread the word to others.

Eakins is a sociologist and counselor. She was on the board of the Coastside Collaborative, a grassroots precursor to Puente. She said she’s realized that while one person can do a lot of good, a community group can organize to meet people’s needs more effectively. The response she received to her request for assistance was evidence of that.

“They answered in the name of the cherished community,” says Eakins. “Ultimately, we are all one people. If one of us is cold, we are all cold. If one soul is cold, none of us can be truly comfortable.”


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