John Sobrato’s Call to Arms: “If Not Now — When?”

Silicon Valley philanthropist John A. Sobrato calls on the community to support a public-private partnership to provide much-needed aid for immigrant families in San Mateo.

“I was proud to be a business owner prior to COVID-19. I have a small family-owned catering business and all events, so far this year, are canceled. I applied for unemployment two weeks after the shutdown in March, and I haven’t got anything from them, also no stimulus check. I took a job now in a kitchen working on average 30 hours per week since I’m not sure when I will be able to open my business again. Looking for a full-time job, but no luck.”

—Mission Asset Fund client

“COVID-19 has impacted my family and me severely. My whole family got contaminated; sadly, my wife lost the battle against it. I used so much money on giving her a proper burial. Currently I am the only one working while my eldest daughter, who is 22, is taking care of her young sisters, who are 10 and 3 years old.”

—Mission Asset Fund client

These heartbreaking stories are just two of thousands of painful quotes from applicants to the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund—a fund created to provide important emergency aid to immigrant families throughout San Mateo County who are economically impacted by COVID-19 and are not eligible for state or federal assistance because of their immigration status.

Inspired by the results of the Silicon Valley Strong initiative founded in partnership with the nonprofit Destination:Home, longtime Silicon Valley business leader and philanthropist John A. Sobrato set out to create a similar program in San Mateo County. “In July, I seeded it with $5 million and added an additional $200,000 for administrative costs,” relates Sobrato (the Sobrato Family Foundation has also donated $3 million to similar programs in Santa Clara County). The pandemic has hurt everyone, but our local immigrant community is feeling the impact in the most painful ways.

On a recent Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) Zoom call highlighting the work of the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund with Sobrato and Mission Asset Fund founder and CEO José Quiñonez, SVCF President and CEO Nicole Taylor pointed out that “undocumented workers make up the majority of the labor force in agriculture, home health care, construction, hotels, restaurants, and foodservice—all among the hardest-hit sectors in the pandemic. Most often they work in lower-wage and less stable roles. They face higher rates of job loss and yet, if they are still employed, they face a higher risk of contracting the virus and are less likely to have health care. Despite paying over $7 billion in local, state, and federal taxes annually, undocumented individuals have been excluded from federal relief, unemployment benefits, and most state benefit programs. There are over 300,000 undocumented individuals living in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties alone.”

John A. Sobrato
John A. Sobrato

Sobrato has taken up the charge to champion the effort to help those workers in San Mateo County with his trademark tenacity. “No one can say no to John,” relates Taylor. Indeed, Sobrato has enlisted an impressive group of corporations like Facebook and foundations and individual philanthropists that reads like a who’s who of Silicon Valley’s bold-faced names: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Grove Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, SHP Foundation, Taube Philanthropies, Janet and Clint Reilly, Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund, Atkinson Foundation, Sunlight Giving, Steven P. Dostart Charitable Foundation, the George & Judy Marcus Family Foundation, Yael Goshen and Dylan Smith, Connie and Bob Lurie, and Mark and Mary Stevens. This group of donors has worked in concert with the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. And, as of September 15, $10,365,000 has been raised and $9,851,000 already distributed to families in crisis in the form of one-time $1,000 grants.

Raising money is just step one of a relief project like this, which is aimed at the 60,000 undocumented individuals living in San Mateo County. Distributing the funds to the people who are most in need required outside expertise. To that end, the Sobrato Family Foundation team conducted extensive research to find the appropriate partner. “San Francisco’s Mission Asset Fund rose to the top of the list,” notes Sobrato. “They’ve handled similar cash grants in the past 10 years and do a careful job of researching the families. It’s important to note average family income of Mission Asset Fund clients is less than $30,000. These folks have a discrete emergency. And, Mission Asset Fund has the expectation that families will be able to maintain stability after receiving the grant. We leave it up to the family how to best spend the money—food, medicine, gas, child care.”

Mission Asset’s partner in this effort is Samaritan House in San Mateo, which provides real intensive case management that connects the families with additional resources, including Legal Aid Society and Faith in Action, in the community so that they can survive until they can go back to work.

These hard-working people are the backbone of our community. Taylor adds, “I can’t help but point out the fact that those working so hard to keep our communities afloat are the same people who are at risk for their own health and can barely provide food for their own families or a roof over their heads. But I am hopeful and heartened by those in our community who are fighting every day for the rights and livelihoods of our undocumented neighbors. There are groups working tirelessly to advocate for the inclusion of these folks in future fed and state relief measures.” Taylor notes that a shining example of this positive effort is being demonstrated by the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund.

Many donors have asked important questions about the fund, including, Why was the decision made for cash assistance versus rent assistance? To which Sobrato responds, “There are government programs in place and more in front of the Legislature focused on the major issue of housing. In the meantime, these folks need to pay for food, gas, medicine, and diapers—the San Mateo Immigrant Relief Fund is focused on meeting these needs.” As of press time, Sobrato was headed back to the San Mateo County Supervisors to request more funding. On October 6, the Board of Supervisors recommended an additional $2 million in funding, bringing their total to $4 million,” notes Sobrato. “That is the most the County has slotted to any social service provider for COVID-19 response.” To other donors who might be on the fence, Sobrato implores, “If not now—when? The community needs vital assistance now.”

For more information on how you can donate to the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund, call 415.315.9869 or visit

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