Frequently Asked Questions

We receive questions all the time from the media, students working on social service projects, and regular people just curious about Sacred Heart. To prepare for this we’ve prepared a FAQ sheet that answers the most common questions.

Agency Structure

What type of organization is Sacred Heart?

Sacred Heart Community Service (SHCS) is a non-profit 501 (c)(3), nondenominational Community Action Agency.  A Community Action Agency carries out the Community Action Program (CAP) which was founded by the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act to fight poverty by empowering the poor in the United States.

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How large is your staff?

We currently have about 75 people on staff.

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What guides the work that you do?

Our vision is ‘a community united to ensure that every child and adult is free from poverty.’  Our mission is ‘to build a community free from poverty by creating hope, opportunity, and action. We provide essential services, empower people to improve their lives, advocate for justice, and inspire volunteers to love, serve, and share.’

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How was Sacred Heart started?

Sacred Heart Community Service was founded in 1964, when Louise Benson, then 61, made her first food basket delivery in downtown San José. Louise was a faith filled woman who felt compelled to take action as long as her neighbors in Santa Clara County were hungry and in need. The agency was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in 1972. In 2008, the agency became the Community Action Agency for Santa Clara County, a responsibility that requires Sacred Heart to constantly assess the state of poverty in Silicon Valley and find innovative solutions to the obstacles that block the achievement of self-sufficiency.

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Where’s the agency located? Is this where people can receive services?

The agency is located in San José due south of downtown at the intersection of South First and Alma streets, in the Goodyear-Mastic neighborhood, which is part of the larger Washington neighborhood. Our street address is 1381 S. 1st St., San José, CA 95110.  Although all of our services are provided at this location, we opened a site on North 1st and Hobson St. for various administrative and other tasks.

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What services do you provide?

Our services are organized under two overarching ideas:

  • Essential Services – these services are aimed at meeting a customer’s basic needs. We believe that having food and clothing are two essential human rights that no human being should live without.
  • Self-Sufficiency Services – these services are aimed at equipping customers with assets that will provide them with the tools to become self-sufficient and raise themselves out of poverty.

More information about these services can be found on this website.

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Does Sacred Heart have a shelter?

No, Sacred Heart is not a shelter; we provide no beds or hot meals. All of our services are outwardly directed.

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How much do you charge the customers for your services?

All of our services for our customers are free of charge.

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Where does all of the food and clothing come from?

About 70-80% of our food is provided by Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.  SHFB is part of Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in America with over 200 locations.  The rest is donated by community groups and volunteers who organize drives and local stores. All of our clothing is donated by generous individuals and community groups who share our vision of ending poverty.

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Who uses your services and how do they apply?

We serve anyone who needs help in the greater metro San José/Santa Clara county area.  Customers must provide proof of residency in 10 specific zip codes in order to qualify for food and/or housing assistance. Other than that, there are no income or immigration status requisites. In order to access our services, customers must first fill out an application which details their housing, family, and employment statuses. Our customers are predominantly Latino of Mexican and Central American descent with a smaller mix of black, white and Southeast Asian populations. The most common economic profile we see is a head-of-household working full-time, earning below the Federal Poverty Line. There are several cases of individuals holding several part-time hourly based jobs that, despite working 40 hours per week or more, is still not enough to cover their family’s most basic and essential needs. About 1 in 5 customers that come to Sacred Heart is homeless.

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How many people access your services?

About 20,000 unduplicated individuals utilize Sacred Heart’s services each month. 

  • 350-450 families visit the Food Pantry every day
  • 300-350 families visit the Clothes Closet every day
  • 40 students and 40 parents are enrolled in ECE and POPS respectively
  • 80 students are enrolled in Afterschool Homework Club
  • Emergency Housing manages about 200 cases a year
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How is Sacred Heart funded?

The agency’s funding comes from diverse sources, including individual donations, government grants and contracts, and donations from corporations, schools and faith based organizations. We could definitely not do the work we do and provide so many services to our customers if it were not for the generous hearts of our contributors.

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Community Engagement

How can people get involved?

There are three main avenues of involvement for individuals in the community:

  • Volunteering on-site – See further details in previous question. To volunteer please contact the Volunteer Office at 408-278-2170 or by email at
  • Doing drives for high demand items – These can range from pop top cans to formula for babies to bus passes and tokens. While some in-kind needs remain a constant throughout the year (like diapers and pop top cans), other needs vary depending on the time of the year. For example, in August we have a special project that provides 1,500 low-income children with the school supplies they need to have a great start to the new academic year; thus at this time we have a particular need for schools supplies to be donated to us. Another example would be our Holiday program, during which we distribute turkeys in November and toys in December to low-income families to enable them to have a wonderful Holiday celebration! To organize a drive, please contact our Drives Coordinator Terri West at 408-278-2189 or by email at
  • Making a financial donation to Sacred Heart  – We accept all sizes of donations, which individuals or organizations can make through our website, by mailing a donation to us, or by dropping their donation at our agency. We love to meet our donors, so if the donor is able and willing we provide a personal tour of our agency! To make a financial donation please contact our Fund Development Manager Jay Pecot at 408-278-2196 or by email at
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How does Sacred Heart tackle the broader systems complicit in perpetuating poverty?

One of Sacred Heart’s main strategies in combating the root causes of poverty is the education and engagement of the community across social and class lines. This is seen in the nearly 2:1 volunteer-staff ratio and the fact that approximately half of Sacred Heart’s funding comes from private philanthropy.

In an effort to educate and empower the community to take the cause of the poor as its own, Sacred Heart offers a range of activities to groups who want to learn more about poverty in our neighborhood:

  • Faith and Social Justice Immersion - The group will interact with our customers, work in our integrated programs, and build relationships with each other. They will reflect on their own spirituality and beliefs to examine ways that they can continuously put our faith into action. They will discuss the moral responsibility in their lives and the relationship it has with their work of justice and compassion.
  • Homeless Immersion - This program gives participants a momentary glimpse into the lives led by 20,000 of their neighbors each year with the goal of leading them into greater service of people living without shelter. Participants spend a day as a homeless individual receiving services from different agencies in our community. They have a chance to "become" a customer, interact with our impoverished neighbors and reflect on their transformative experience. At the end of the experience, participants are invited and encouraged to take action in service of the poor.
  • Environmental Justice Immersion - Groups will try to understand why some communities have so many assets while adjacent communities are burdened by so many deficits.  Through interviews, immersion and photo documentation, the groups share their findings.  Through their experience and discussion they gain a better understanding of the environmental factors that sustain and perpetuate poverty in communities.  
  • Poverty Simulation - The poverty simulation program accommodates larger groups of 40-80 participants, and helps participants to understand the challenges facing their neighbors who try to make ends meet with limited resources. The participants are assigned specific family roles, and they simply have to live their lives in the small community by accessing services, attending work, feeding their families, etc. The point of the simulation is to show just how difficult, frustrating and exhausting your life can be when you do not have enough.  The simulation program lasts about three hours including the simulation and a reflection session where participants discuss their experiences, issues of local poverty, and the next steps to continuing their involvement.

Through these activities we engage our neighbors so that we can truly become a community united to ensure that every child and adult is free from poverty!

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How can I receive additional information about Sacred Heart?

For additional information please visit our website at or call us at 408-278-2160. We look forward to hearing from you!

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How do people hear about Sacred Heart?

Word about Sacred Heart is spread through referrals from other local community service organizations, word of mouth and informal networks. We have many community partners in the realms of business, faith, school and service organizations who know about our work and refer customers and volunteers to come join us. We organize drives, post flyers and distribute posters, partner with media organizations, attend service fairs, and use our Facebook page to inform community members about our services, volunteer opportunities, and donation needs. Additionally, we produce a quarterly newsletter, a monthly email newsletter, and our website to connect with our community.

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Do you work with volunteers?

About 150 volunteers come in daily to lend their time and compassion to Sacred Heart every day. We completely rely on our volunteers to deliver the services that hundreds of customers depend on. Volunteers traditionally help with packing food, sorting through the donated clothes, tutoring children and adults, greeting and welcoming customers, processing applications, and making the necessary administrative tasks that keep the organization running. However, our volunteer needs vary on a weekly basis so volunteers might be surprised with a special project on any given week! We encourage individuals as well as groups to come volunteer with us and help Sacred Heart achieve is vision of ending poverty. 

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