A mass of people were lined up to enter the Bellevue Highland Community Center for the annual HopeFest on March 16.
For the fifth year, HopeFest has offered low income and homeless people necessary supplies such as food, clothing and hygiene products, along with services such as free dental care and haircuts. This year, HopeFest offered free vaccinations and HIV vaccinations.
“I’m thankful for this event,” said Irma who traveled to the day-long event from Renton. “It [really] does help a lot. It’s a great idea, and it’s a nice thing to do for families in need.”
For the second year, Irma, whose last name is withheld for privacy, said she gathered clothes and toys for her five children. She also picked up hygiene products like soap and toothpaste. She said those items will help her family out for a few months.
“It’s [also] admirable to see all the young volunteers. It makes me happy that they’re doing this,” she said.
Five years ago, HopeFest founder Tyler Zangaglia saw the reality of homelessness among his peers, and with Seattle-King County having the third largest homeless population in the U.S., Zangaglia knew he had to do something to help.
Zangaglia previously told the reporter he had gone to a similar event in the area, and by stepping outside his comfort zone, he saw the reality of homelessness and poverty. Talking to people experiencing poverty and homelessness in his community sparked the idea for him to start HopeFest.
HopeFest became a nonprofit organization in 2016 and since 2014 has served more than 6,500 people, worked with 1,400 volunteers, partnered with 200 organizations and has raised $35,000 in grants and scholarships.
Zangaglia is currently a freshman at Gonzaga University.
“I’ve been looking forward to this because it’s such a great day,” Zangaglia said. “Everyone is just so happy to be here, and it’s a really unique opportunity where so many different members of our community from youth, to adults, to people who are in need, to city councilmembers — everyone comes together for the common goal (of) giving people some joy.”
The organization is completely operated by youth, most of them from Eastlake High School. And with the help of 300 volunteers, and through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, HopeFest offers free items and services.
Eastlake High School junior Jenna Raymond has been a volunteer for the last three years. Raymond said volunteering is important to her.
“I think it’s really important to get out and serve the community,” she said. “Especially in an affluent community like (Bellevue). It’s important to understand that a lot of people do not have the privileges we do in our community and a lot of people in our community are struggling. (It’s) important to recognize that and do whatever we can to make a difference and serve.”
Raymond added that community service is a way to show the community that people do care, there are people who love them, and there are people who are willing to take time to provide them with the basic needs they don’t usually get.