The number of people experiencing homelessness in King County has decreased by 8 percent in the past year, according to King County’s 2019 Count Us In report. But that doesn’t mean outreach and assistance isn’t any less vital.
Community activist and Sammamish resident Tyler Zangaglia understands this. When the now 20-year-old was a freshman at Eastlake High School, he became aware of the need in King County and decided to lend a helping hand himself. He volunteered for the Harvest Festival in Bellevue in 2015. The festival was a single-day event that served people in need. Unfortunately, the organization moved north to Bellingham shortly after.
After the Harvest Festival moved locations, Zangaglia said it left a gap in their services. Interested in filling the gap himself, Zangaglia reached out to the Harvest Festival’s organizers to find out what he and his friends could do to help.
“I really wanted to take the next step and feel like I was making a bigger difference in my community,” he said. “This opportunity was so perfect. It was so much bigger than me. It allowed me to work with other people, be creative and build something from the ground up — to do something that was purposeful and intentional. Something that could really have an impact on people who needed it.”
Zangaglia, Elliott Wong, and others got to work right away. In 2015, the team worked on the framework of what their take on the event would look like. After it was fully redesigned, the event was renamed HopeFest.
HopeFest quickly became a nonprofit organization and is a brainchild of the Eastlake High School Rotary Interact Club. The organization became entirely operated by high school students. The team spent a year organizing and had many sleepless nights packing boxes of donations that included food, clothes and toys. At the time, the festival had some 50 to 60 youth volunteers running the event.
Wong, now 21, has been working alongside Zangaglia, whom he considers a good friend, from the beginning. A sophomore when the organization started, Wong said he felt somewhat skeptical at first.
“I’m glad I took the risk,” he said about coming alongside Zangaglia. “Everything we did prior to the actual HopeFest felt like a dream or like a school project. It wasn’t until we opened the doors that everything hit us. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
Zangaglia and Wong both grew up in Sammamish, an affluent community on the Eastside. Recognizing their class status, the two felt a responsibility to help the less fortunate.
“For those who are lucky enough to have a roof over their head, water to drink and food to eat, I feel like [we] have a responsibility to give back to those who are in need in our community,” Zangaglia said. “We have a responsibility to do our part in making the world a better place.”
Since 2015, HopeFest has been working to make the world a better place. Coming up on its sixth year, HopeFest has offered low-income and homeless people supplies such as food, clothing, books and hygiene products. The annual festival also offers free services such as dental care, haircuts, free vaccinations and health screenings.
The organization is completely operated by youth and most are from Eastlake High School. HopeFest brings in more than 350 youth volunteers, plus 20 high schoolers who are department leaders. With the help of volunteers, and through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, HopeFest offers free items and services.
Zangaglia is currently a sophomore at Gonzaga University but he still makes the time to lead the HopeFest 2020 directors from Eastlake High School. He said they have been working all year to plan the next and largest edition of HopeFest. Wong, who is a junior at Washington State University, has also been helping to plan the festival. Both will be back to help with the event in March.
HopeFest 2020 will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at Bellevue Highland Community Center, 14224 Bel-Red Road in Bellevue.
“Getting involved in the community and doing service for the greater good of others just opens your eyes to something greater than yourself,” Zangaglia said. “One of the things that keeps motivating me is that these are our peers, our friends, our neighbors who are in need. It’s not just complete strangers.”