Nearly two decades ago, a friend of Gerardo Monroy handed him a business card for Sunnyvale Community Services and told him that if he ever landed on hard times, the agency might be able to help out.
Monroy, who with his brother had just started a forklift repair business, tossed the card in a drawer. He had plenty of work. All over Santa Clara County, customers were calling him to fix forklift brakes, hydraulic lifts and motors.
Business was good from the start, and it got even better as growing Silicon Valley technology companies built warehouses. Monroy, 49, was able to pay the rent on the two-bedroom Sunnyvale apartment where he’d lived for more than a decade with his two sons, 16-year-old Alonzo and 11-year-old Mauricio, and his wife, Maria.
But cash flow was always a worry, as Monroy and his brother juggled out-of-pocket costs for parts and gasoline with invoices to stay in the black. There was no room for error.
Then a customer didn’t pay a $900 bill in early 2014. Despite repeated calls and e-mails, the client — a company that customizes storage racks inside warehouses — skirted the bill. It was just enough to throw Monroy’s finances out of whack. For this particular job, he had used his own money to buy a fan belt, a cooling fan, ignition parts and a thermostat, further draining his cash flow.
“Whenever I called the customer, they said they weren’t ready to pay,” Monroy said. “Or they said the job wasn’t completed. Then they stopped answering the phone.”
By May, the customer still hadn’t paid. By then, Monroy couldn’t afford his rent.
Monroy didn’t tell his sons what was happening, yet he was worried the family would be put out of its home. Then he remembered that card he threw in a drawer. He found it and checked the address, then went to the offices of Sunnyvale Community Services.
Caseworker Maria Buenrostro listened to his story and sympathized. But she’d heard many similar tales. She asked Monroy to come back with invoices, work orders and bank statements to back up his story. He did.
“From his invoices I could see that he had been making about $4,000 a month to cover his monthly expenses, which included not only his rent but his ability to buy replacement parts for the forklifts,” Buenrostro said. “All it took was one deep cut, one customer who was slow to pay, and it affected his livelihood — the place where he lays his head.”
Buenrostro contacted The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund, which was able to cover Monroy’s May rent so his family could stay in his home.
He eventually got a little money from his wayward customer, but not the full amount. He didn’t argue, saying: “It’s not good to get into a fight with people.”
Instead, he and his brother are more careful about whom they do business with, and after some financial counseling from Sunnyvale Community Services, they no longer take jobs without receiving up-front payments for materials.
“We are a little company; we don’t have huge amounts of extra money,” Monroy said. “If we invest in repairs, then we need to recover those expenses.”
Monroy hopes he never has to ask for help again, but he’s thankful that somebody listened to his plight and extended a hand.
“It’s so easy to work hard in the Bay Area and still slip under,” he said. “I was desperate, but I’m so grateful that somebody helped me, that my boys never knew how close we were.”
Meredith May is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original article can be found here.