Sahana Prem, a Santa Clara resident and 2020 graduate of Cupertino High School, spearheaded a Rotary Club-supported fundraiser that was a triple win. Held Feb. 14 – March 7, it benefitted small Bay Area businesses and restaurants, hungry diners and two charities that feed the hungry.
Here’s how Prem got inspired to help the community and found the support to make her idea work.
Although she is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, Prem is at home taking classes remotely online. To earn money and have more social contact during what should have been an exciting first year away from home on a college campus, she got a job.
Last October, Prem began working as a server at Udon Mugizo, a small start-up Japanese restaurant in Mountain View.
“When the governor issued a pandemic shutdown in December, we were out of work for a couple weeks,” said Prem. “I saw that some of the workers were struggling financially, and the business was, too.
“Unlike big businesses and franchises, small businesses don’t necessarily have anything to fall back on. They’re more vulnerable with closures.”
Prem’s idea was to incentivize people to patronize small businesses and restaurants by having a percentage of their purchases matched by sponsors and donated to the United Way Bay Area and the World Food Programme USA, charities supported by the Rotary Club.
During high school, Prem participated in an Interact Club, a student service organization sponsored by the Rotary club. “Service above Self” is the motto for both.
“The Interact program teaches young adults how to give back and support their communities,” said Santa Clara Rotary Club President Mike Sellers. “We mentor and support young adults.”
So, to launch the fundraiser, Prem turned to her Interact network from District 5170, forming a team with German International School of Silicon Valley senior Mila Quiñonero Koch, Santa Clara High School junior Blake Levin, and Homestead High School senior Ayush Maurya. The team approached local Rotary clubs for support.
Los Altos Sunset, Santa Clara, Saratoga and Silicon Valley Rainbow Rotary Clubs opted in. For every dollar that a participant spent at a small business, each club agreed to donate a percentage of that amount to the designated charities.
“The Rotarians are really good role models for us. They have a lot of wisdom on how to solve problems, communicate and lead people,” said Prem. “They are very supportive and very generous.”
During the three-week fundraiser, 150 Interact participants patronized about 100 small (no more than three locations throughout California) businesses, verifying with receipts purchases totaling $8,061.07. The Rotary club match was $3,114.02, divided equally between the charities.
“It was like a dream. When I started, I had a lot of doubts. It seemed like the fundraiser would be difficult to pull off,” said Prem. “I’m surprised about myself and very proud. Now I realize I’m more capable than I thought I was.
“I’m very grateful for everybody who participated. I’m hoping the fundraiser actually made a difference for small businesses and people are more aware of how they spend their money now.”