Why Philanthropy Matters to Real People

By: Abby Cunningham

Rose Brantley has lived in her Cupertino apartment complex for over 21 years. In nearly all that time, the 78-year-old West Valley resident worked just a few blocks away at the Hilton Garden Inn as a food server in the hotel restaurant. Although eligible for social security benefits, every penny she made in tips and in wages went to cover the rent on her 2-bedroom apartment for her and her mother, now 95. The living was lean, but she was still able to make ends meet.

Everything changed with COVID-19. On March 16th, when the shelter-in-place order was given for Santa Clara County, Brantley was laid off.

“At my age I totally panicked,” Brantley said. “I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is my living.'”

Rosie, as her many friends call her, was not alone. Tens of thousands of Bay Area residents had already lost their jobs, and the hospitality industries were particularly hard hit. For the first time in her life, she was unemployed.

“I’ve been in the food industry for over 60 years,” she explained. “I’ve never been on unemployment. I’ve never been out of work. If something shut down, I would get a job the next day.”

Unsure of where to turn, her first order of business was to talk to her landlord. She went to the leasing office to explain her situation. Where would she and her mother sleep at night if she couldn’t pay the rent? The office manager gave her the phone number of West Valley Community Services, a partner agency in the Emergency Assistance Network funded by United Way Bay Area.

Thanks to early funding by UWBA, West Valley Community Services was able to provide emergency rental assistance to help Brantley cover her housing costs. Although retired, she still paid market rate for a two-bedroom apartment. She’s been on a 7-year waiting list for the BMR (Below Market Rate) rental program offered in Cupertino.

Her employer helped her navigate the complexities of filing for unemployment. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be an instant infusion of cash. Stimulus money from the federal government, as well as unemployment benefits, were slow to trickle into California.

“It took almost three months to get my first money,” she said.

With her housing costs covered, Brantley was then able to downscale into a smaller apartment. Her mom moved in with her sister, and Brantley and her pet Chihuahua moved into a one-bedroom unit in the same complex. Thanks to support from UWBA and West Valley Community Services, Brantley can stay housed and keep her head above water.

But she does miss work. She looks forward to going back and meeting people from all over the world as she serves breakfast and listens to stories of travel, baptisms and weddings. Over the years she’s met friends, friends of friends, their parents, siblings, even new brides and grandchildren. People will sometimes call the hotel ahead of time to see if she’s working before booking a stay. Not surprisingly, Brantley has received several positive reviews on TripAdvisor, though she’s never really read them all herself. Put simply, she loves what she does.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone to be a little nice to someone and go out of your way,” she said. “That’s what life is all about.”

The need in our community is only expected to grow in the coming months. Please join us today in contributing to the United Way Bay Area COVID-19 Community Relief Fund.

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