Amazon employees interested in giving back had the chance yesterday to chat with representatives from nearly 70 local charitable organizations at the company’s first Nonprofit Expo.
The three-hour event at Amazon’s downtown meeting center drew more than 1,000 employees, the company estimated, and marks another step in Amazon’s move toward greater community engagement — an area where the company has been criticized for falling short in the past.
“I’m thrilled as an employee that we’re doing this,” said Rafael Grijalva, who works on the Kindle team and also participated at the expo as a volunteer with United Way of King County.
The event featured booths from big-name arts organizations including Seattle Art Museum and Pacific Northwest Ballet, global health efforts such as PATH, as well as the YMCA and many other educational and youth and family programs. Seattle Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the efforts of other charitable groups, helped organize the expo.
One of the most popular attractions was a booth hosted by Mary’s Place, an organization helping homeless women and families. This past April Amazon announced that it was temporarily donating a building to be used by the group as a homeless shelter. The space, located just a few blocks from Amazon offices, will eventually be demolished for new corporate space.
Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, said the shelter is working beautifully, helping more than 200 family members so far and providing more than 10,000 “bed nights” to children and adults.
Hartman said that Amazon employees in teams and individually have been coming to the shelter to volunteer, tutoring residents, serving meals and engaging with families. “They’re rocking the babies,” she said. The shelter’s proximity to the tech giant’s headquarters — there are some 20,000 Amazon employees in Seattle — is a great chance to remind people, “we’re all neighbors here.”
Amazon has been supporting Mary’s Place through multiple efforts. In August, Amazon hosted a BBQ for Mary’s Place families, staff and volunteers, and in during Seattle’s GiveBig day of philanthropy, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to match up to $1 million in donations to the local charity.
Local leaders have declared a homelessness crisis in the area and are struggling to find way to quickly move people into housing in a city where real estate and rental prices are soaring — due in large part to the booming tech economy.
Many of those attending the expo yesterday said they were eager to help address some of these local challenges through volunteering. Many were also new to Seattle, having taken jobs with Amazon in the past two years or less. They wanted to learn more about the region’s nonprofit groups and how they could lend a hand.
“You have a responsibility to your community,” said Grace Reilly, an Amazon program manager who in May moved to Seattle from Spokane.
Her friend, Allison Sherrill, an executive assistant for the company, agreed. “It’s important to give back,” she said, “and help Seattle be the best it can be.”