Reba: a survivor, chocked-full of motherly wisdom

Many Maryhouse guests go to Reba when they are in need of someone to talk to.

“They call me Mama Reba,” Reba said. “They come to me to talk and I listen. If they ask for advice, I give suggestions. I’m very spiritual. I have the spirit of God in me and I take that seriously and so do they. Sometimes I look into their eyes and hold their hands and let them know that they are beautiful and to smile because God loves them.”

Reba has experienced homelessness for almost a year.

To Reba, Maryhouse is a beacon of safety. Here, she is able to access a warm shower, hygiene products and clothing.

“I love being able to talk to all of the staff – Miss Debbie, Shannon, Judy, Hailey, Marlena, Ella and Kaylee,” she said. “I love talking to all of the ladies and having them watch out for me.”

“People don’t respect a woman who is homeless in any capacity,” Reba said. “Society expects women to know how to do everything, but being on the streets is really hard. It’s hard to find a place to sleep, to find a place to eat and to find a bathroom to use. The simple things are hard.”

She said that women experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault and often go about their days in a state of constant vigilance. They sleep with one eye open —  steeped in fear.

“I’ve been fortunate and I have been blessed because I have warriors and angels who protect me,” Reba said.

According to Reba, women experiencing homelessness who are physically or mentally disabled are extremely vulnerable on the streets. Their small assortment of personal belongings including their money, ids, clothes, cell phones, food stamps and mementos are often stolen from them.

“I see a lot of things that make my heart bleed,” she said. “People don’t have to be mean to us, but they are. They are mean to us because of the way we dress and sometimes the way we speak. It’s hard to see people get spit on or cussed out. They don’t know what we go through to get from point A to point B. If you don’t have money to get on the bus or take a taxi, then you have to jump on the train to get where you need to go and if you don’t have your ticket, you get a ticket. If people would be generous enough to pay for a packet of bus passes and drop them off at Maryhouse that would help a lot. It would help us go to doctors appointments, go to the grocery store or see our kids.”

At Loaves, Reba can get breakfast and lunch as well as new clothes each week.

“I don’t have to ask for food,” she said. “I don’t have to ask for clothes and during the day, I don’t have to ask for protection and I can lay my head down at night and know I am very protected by God and good street people.”

“Loaves & Fishes is a blessing,” Reba said. “It’s how Jesus started – feeding the people — and for Loaves & Fishes to be named after that is a beacon of light to me. It is so important for people who are hungry to spend the day here and to get whatever supplies they need and help as far as housing advocacy, food and mental health services.”

Before she started to experience homelessness, Reba worked as an executive assistant in Dallas, Texas and lived with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her dream is to live with them again.

“You can’t take what you have for granted because you can be one paycheck away from being out here and if you are not the kind of person who can adjust to change, you won’t make it,” she said. “You have to be able to adjust to change.”

Fathers are homeless too

In honor of Father’s Day, Loaves & Fishes celebrated its guests who are fathers.

Gail Filter, Doug Winter and Theodore Goodwin captured stunning pictures of Loves & Fishes guests and provided them with two copies of their likeness — one to keep and one to send to their loved ones. (Keep scrolling to see their beautiful portraits).

Joe Walker livened up Friendship park with his piano playing and singing. And, staff and volunteers provided guests with cards to send to their dads and children.

“It is such a privilege to be able to recognize these men who perhaps haven’t been in contact with their family for years,” Hannah Ozanian, the Director of Friendship Park said. “You see it in their eyes when you elevate them and ask them to get their picture taken professionally. It is such an honor for them to realize that they deserve to have their picture taken as much as any other father.”

Many guests at Loaves & Fishes are estranged from their children because they’ve been surviving on the streets for so long. And many serve as fathers to those who are young and vulnerable and also experiencing homelessness.

“Father’s Day is an opportunity is to be with our guests who cannot reach out to their family and to make them feel as if they are family,” Goerge Kohrummel, the assistant director of Friendship Park said. “Our guests get to share their day and their thoughts with each other.”

Check out these pictures of our guests who we are so lucky to say belong to our family at Loaves & Fishes:

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Jerry Ryle, Dining Room and Jail Visitation Volunteer

At over six feet tall, Jerry Ryle’s deep voice has a slight Irish lilt. Now, a retired priest, he grew up in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento. At the time, the neighborhood was composed of working class families and Sacramento was a small city – with a population of just 240,000 people.

“Back then no one locked their doors,” he said. “I always wanted be a soda jerk at Vic’s Ice Cream Shop. They had the best ice cream.”

Jerry never got the job, but he worked as a bag boy at the Arata Brothers grocery store next to his family’s bar, the Irish Tavern.

“Oak Park was heavily Irish and then it was mostly black and now it’s getting gentrified,” he said.

Jerry entered the seminary when he was a freshman in high school. Twelve years later, he finished his studies and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sacramento.

His first assignment was at St. Patrick’s in Grass Valley – a community rich in California Gold Rush history. He then taught at St. Francis High School. Following that, he spent two and a half years at The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian farming monastery nestled in the northern Sacramento valley. Though Jerry was attracted to the communal monastic life, he realized that his true vocation was in the parish community. He loves people and savors listening to the stories of their lives.

After leaving the monastery he was sent for several years to St. Philomene’s Church in Sacramento. He then was entitled to a new sabbatical year which he spent at the University of California in Berkeley. There he pursued studies in medieval European history. After this, he served as an assistant pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Vallejo. From St Catherine’s he was sent to St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, located in the neighborhood of North Highlands. There he was finally made a pastor.

During Jerry’s 14 year tenure at St. Lawrence, three homes near to the church blew up in meth lab explosions and the church’s glass tower was shattered with gunshots on three different occasions.

Once, a lover’s quarrel occurred right across the street from church after evening mass. The victim of the shooting crawled over to the church asking for help. Jerry left his parishioners to meet the man outside  so that he didn’t bring the crossfire to the congregation.  Two parishioners — Mary, a nurse and Carol, a PE teacher — came with Jerry to help the man before an ambulance arrived.

“Mary automatically took off her white wool coat and made a pillow for his head and I thought that was the sweetest thing,” Jerry said.

The man survived, but it took over a year for the shooting to come to trial.

“It was just another day in North Highlands,” Jerry said.

Because North Highlands had an emerging Mexican population, Jerry decided to study Spanish for two months in Cuernavaca, Mexico to be able to reach out to new parishioners.

But after his schooling in Mexico, the Diocese transferred him to the heavily Spanish speaking parish of St. Christopher’s in Galt. In the rural and predominantly Mexican farming community, Jerry says that he gradually learned conversational Spanish. It took a year for him to become oriented to the culture of the vineyards and the dairies. But, once he was welcomed into the community’s Mexican culture, Jerry said that Galt became a dream come true.

As a retiree, Jerry lives in Campus Commons, and is an avid reader. He enjoys cooking and having friends over for dinner. His favorite dishes include chicken Provencal and pasta Bolognese.

On Tuesdays, he volunteers in the Loaves & Fishes dining room and performs food prep from 6:30 to 10 AM. After that, he volunteers with the Jail Visitation program.

For the past year and two months, he has visited a man named Robert in the Sacramento county jail.

Though Robert spent over a year in solitary he has yet to receive a hearing. He is a poet, an artist and a committed Christian. Robert has come to know God and Jesus Christ through his bible study while in jail.

“You listen, but you also share,” Jerry said about his time visiting Robert.

Jerry has sent Robert paperback books to read including an inspirational book about the lives of saints and a book about colored pencil drawing techniques, recommended to Robert by another inmate.

Robert has shared his artistic talents with Jerry sending him and his family members some of the greeting cards he has designed.

A Mother’s Day card that Robert designed for Jerry’s niece.

Jerry says that the experience of visiting Robert in the jail has taught him that we are built to encounter one another and learn the healing power of love.

A meditation on Friendship Park from the Sacramento County Jail

Robert, a guest at Loaves & Fishes, has been in the Sacramento County Jail for the past year and two months. He is a poet and an artist. He wrote and dedicated this poem to Friendship Park on June 22nd, 2016:

A Place to Be, To Meet a Friend,

Broken Hearts, That Need to Mend.

An Empty Stomach and a Lonely Heart

There’s Always a Friend at Friendship Park.

A Place to Feel Like You’re at Home

At Loaves & Fishes, You’re Never Alone.

Lend a Hand and Offer Cheer

For Loaves & Fishes, is Always Here.