Unsung heroes of Silicon Valley: Dominique Pacolba
Dominique Pacolba (right) serves bagged meals to seniors as part of her senior nutrition drive-thru program. According to Pacolba, up to 60 meals are served per day. Photo courtesy of Dominique Pacolba.

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s a nerve-wracking time to be over 60.

But Dominique Pacolba, recreational supervisor at Seven Trees Community Center in San Jose, is determined to bring a little positivity to seniors’ lives through her nutrition program.

With a nifty drive-thru system, Seven Trees serves up to 60 meals for seniors per day, Monday through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For many seniors, Pacolba said, the bagged food is their “one hot meal for the whole day.”

“They really rely on those meals, and we knew we had to continue to make it happen,” Pacolba told San José Spotlight.

Food insecurity isn’t the only challenge seniors face during the coronavirus crisis. According to Pacolba, longstanding displacement in the Bay Area means many seniors have had their families move away, leaving them isolated.

In the few minutes Pacolba’s staff spends handing a meal to a senior, they work to connect and make that interaction count.

“When they come to pick up the meals, we’re saying ‘hey,’ greeting them with a really nice smile,” Pacolba said. “We’re just trying to be very joyful when they’re coming to see us and trying to lift their spirits a little bit, even if it’s just for a minute or two.”

The positivity is an incredible feat on Pacolba’s part. She and her husband are both essential workers. They have two children, a 20-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, who’s sheltered at home after schools closed and switched to distance learning.

It’s been “challenging,” said Pacolba, who uses FaceTime to check in with him.

Serving the community has long been a part of Pacolba’s career — she’s been working as a therapeutic specialist since 2006. And while attending San Jose State University, she interned with the city, working in wheelchair sports programs for residents with disabilities.

When she visited the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado and heard about Aaron Fotheringham, who at 14 became the first person to successfully perform a backflip in a wheelchair, Pacolba was determined to have him do a demonstration at the city’s annual sports camp for kids with disabilities.

So, she called Fotheringham’s mom.

“I said ‘Hey, I heard about your son — would you be willing to have him come out to our camp?’” Pacolba said. “It was amazing because the kids were so inspired by him.

“There’s so much joy in serving people and especially underserved populations like folks with disabilities,” Pacolba added.

Dominique Pacolba (far left) and her team pose with former First Lady Michelle Obama during her visit to Seven Trees Community Center. Photo courtesy of Dominique Pacolba.

Esmeralda Ochoa, a recreation leader at Seven Trees, said Pacolba’s emphatic nature makes her a “great” leader.

“The way she makes me feel is that she cares about us,” Ochoa said.

Kim Ross, a recreation specialist at Seven Trees, said she appreciates Pacolba’s ability to think outside the box.

“The great thing about her when she came in was she took the time to see what we all do and figure out what everybody’s strengths and weaknesses were,” Ross told San José Spotlight.

That type of thinking has come in handy with stay-home orders in place. As all normal community programs have been canceled, Pacolba said her team has had to think creatively to make sure people are staying active and engaged.

“We’re going really big on our social media campaigns,” Pacolba said. “We’re doing online yoga classes … we’re just trying to do different things to let the community know we’re still here for them.”

And during times like these, a little fun is what everyone — young and old — needs.

“I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of recreation in people’s lives,” Pacolba said. “Whether it be for physical health or whether it be to reduce isolation or for mental health, recreation plays a huge role.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at the.loananh.lede@gmail.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, we are highlighting public officials in San Jose who have become unsung heroes by stepping up to help their community in a time of crisis. This is the third of a 5-part series. 

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