How one engineer’s problem-solving mindset is helping serve the unsheltered and hungry

An engineer from our wafer fab in Lehi, Utah, earned our Community Impact Award for demonstrating our company values and working toward broader, sustainable solutions for those without homes

17 Apr 2023

Engineers pride themselves on perfecting the small things – on breaking problems down to their components. Nathan, a process engineer at our company’s wafer fab in Lehi, Utah (LFAB), took the same approach when he saw an opportunity to solve challenges and give his time and talents to make an impact on his local community.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” he said. “I had a lot of grocery bags stashed under my kitchen sink and thought, ‘What do people do with these things?’ I found someone in my neighborhood who made sleeping mats out of them for people experiencing homelessness and thought that would be the best use for them.”

To Nathan’s surprise, his neighbor needed 400 grocery bags to make just one mat, not the 50 bags he’d spent weeks collecting. And she needed help distributing the sleeping mats to those who might need them.

“I really like solving problems,” he said. “I like finding the gaps in existing systems and identifying the root causes. There are still so many unsheltered people falling through the cracks.”

A growing impact

Nathan began what would become a months-long mission to connect dots and address service gaps for the unsheltered in Salt Lake City – starting with where to donate his neighbor’s sleeping mats.

“I started asking a lot of questions and building relationships,” he said. “I saw a lot of opportunities and thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’”

Vanessa Perez, community relations manager at LFAB, connected Nathan with local grocery stores that allowed him to collect plastic bags they would otherwise throw out. Twice per week, he would fill the back of his SUV with thousands of bags and deliver them to his neighbor. Over time, Nathan collected more than 100,000 bags that were woven into sleeping mats, which he then took to Nomad Alliance – a non-profit serving the unsheltered in Northern Utah.

He began volunteering at the organization several hours per week in addition to working full time, finding ways to help feed those it serves, connecting with area nonprofits and food service businesses to distribute fruits and vegetables nearing the end of their shelf life. He saved 7 tons of food from going to waste and helped deliver it to the hungry.

“This is where I was able to make the biggest impact,” he said. “An average of three days a week, I filled my SUV full of food and distributed it to multiple nonprofit organizations and senior centers that could use fresh produce quickly.”

One of the produce providers, a local farm near Salt Lake City, told Nathan they needed workers. He partnered with the owners to create a street-to-farm program that provides unsheltered people with room and board in exchange for their part-time help.

Image of Farm Owners
Farm owners Robin (left) and Jayme (center) partnered with Nathan to provide food and housing for those who need it in exchange for their help on the farm.

“Nathan was able to organize this wonderful synergy of getting people off the streets, getting them into shelter and restoring their self-confidence through working on the farm,” Vanessa said. “His work started with a collection of plastic grocery bags that every one of us has stored in our cupboard or under our kitchen sink, and it grew into this really impactful effort. He’s a compassionate humanitarian, a visionary and strategic thinker who has not been afraid to tackle this large issue of homelessness.”

Forging a path to stability

Nathan is most passionate about how to find more permanent housing solutions for the unsheltered. He has facilitated discussions with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness to uncover service gaps and root causes of chronic homelessness, and partnered with local organizations to learn how mobile micro homes can provide temporary, safe housing solutions.

“If you have a reliable place where you can keep your belongings and feel safe, that’s where you start your path to stability,” he said. “I have a lot of empathy for people who are on the brink, who have lost everything. A lot of times you lose yourself, too, in that situation.”

Our company has recognized Nathan with the Community Impact Award, which honors our founders and their long history of philanthropy and volunteerism. As part of the honor, our company donated $10,000 to the nonprofit of his choice. He chose The Other Side Village, a master-planned neighborhood that provides affordable, permanent and quality housing for people coming out of chronic homelessness.

“I am so proud of Nathan and other TIers who give selflessly and tirelessly of their time and talent to build stronger communities around the world,” said Andy Smith, our company’s director of Giving and Volunteering. “It’s inspiring to know that our employees are changing lives. Nathan’s efforts are only a small sampling of the acts of kindness and service practiced by TIers every day to lift up those in need.”

For Nathan, giving his time and talents to this cause was an easy choice.

“I serve this specific community because I was very close to losing my home and have been on food stamps before,” he said. “I know how a safe home and knowing where your next meal will come from has a tremendous effect on the rest of your life. I believe every human has inherent value. It is easy to fall into an unsheltered situation and very hard to get back out of it.”

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