Tech companies help create 'impact kits' for homeless

The companies not only paid for the kits, they volunteered to put them together, and learned the best way to approach people to hand them out.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Dancing Tree Family Center on East Burnside is a good place to get a hot cup of coffee.

It also offers warm clothes and computers for checking your email.

“It’s pretty critical to have a computer and a phone these days,” explains Nicole Howe of Impact NW.

The family center is one of the locations where Impact NW does daily battle with the consequences of poverty and homelessness. You can find early childhood services, after school programs, housing assistance and more. They are ambitious programs that recently got a boost from an unexpected source.

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“Two really engaged members of the tech community came to us,” Howe said.

Two tech-company workers who walked past people living on the streets every day in downtown Portland and wanted to do more than look the other way. And they soon found out they weren’t alone.

“There’s more and more of our tech companies that want to be more involved,” said Theresa Jelderks of the Technology Association of Oregon. “They have the heart, they have the interest.”

In all, five tech companies decided to join forces with Impact NW to create something they call impact kits. A waterproof bag filled with things most of us take for granted, like warm socks, a new toothbrush and lotion.

“When we handed them out, the lotion was the most important piece,” said Howe.

The tech companies, including AWS Elemental, Metal Toad, Cozy and Perka, not only paid for the kits, they volunteered to put them together, and learned the best way to approach people to hand them out.

“There were a lot of kids and families that helped us build the kits but also hand them out,” said Howe. “And I could see it was just really powerful and moving.”

The 300 kits are nearly gone, but the Tech Association says this is just the beginning. That along with the wealth and sometimes unwanted growth that tech companies bring to Portland, they also bring something else.

“There is a lot of empathy and compassion with our tech companies,” said Jelderks.

And a real desire to make a positive difference.

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