A Tale of Two Communities

“The greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” Mother Teresa

This is a Thanksgiving story about two communities: Sacramento’s homeless community, what I call “Second City;” and, Loaves & Fishes, a sanctuary for homeless men, women, and children seeking survival services. Second City is where poverty, loneliness, fear and despair are found. Loaves & Fishes is where Sacramento’s homeless are welcomed and treated as wanted guests.

November 21, 2017. I am at Loaves & Fishes to shoot the Sacramento Blues Society Thanksgiving concert in Friendship Park. Vocalist Val Starr opens with “We’re here to take the blues away.” Today, more than 700 homeless Loaves & Fishes’ guests will be fed and entertained.

No doubt about it. Today is special. It is what Val Starr says it is, “you listen to the blues to get rid of the blues.” The images below evidence the magic of the blues cutting through “the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” For me this is a fun time and a time to be thankful. I get to listen to great music and capture images of Loaves & Fishes staff, volunteers, musicians, and homeless guests enjoying themselves.

Father’s Day Portrait Revisited

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Six months ago, I photographed Andrea and many other men for Father’s Day at Loaves & Fishes but he never saw his portrait. Little did I know during that Father’s Day photo session that Andrea and I would meet up again. His big laugh and smile and humor are infectious. “Hey, do you have the photo of me from Father’s Day?” Andrea asked as he sat down on the worn wooden library chair under the broad light of our makeshift studio. “Yes, I have the photo.” I pulled out my phone and found the photo, “Here, take a look.”

Although Andrea’s photo was on the Loaves & Fishes website, many homeless don’t have access to on-line resources. He hadn’t seen it posted.

“I look the same, that’s the Father’s Day photo, right? I didn’t have a haircut or a shave. That’s why I left my hat on, too, probably. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, and I’m trying to get home to Colorado. I’d love to give this photo to my kids.”

“I will get your photos for your kids.” I said as Andrea handed the phone back to me.

Andrea looked up and began reminiscing about his Denver childhood: “I graduated from East High school–I grew up in Park Hill. The big concrete gates to City Park–that was our backyard. Did I have a beautiful neighborhood and life? The golf course, the museum, the planetarium, the zoo, that was our backyard and I still have memories and dreams of that house. Those were beautiful times.”

Andrea and I talked about home, about Colorado. I’m from Colorado, too, and we shared a lot of the same feelings about our hometown. We talked about our small memories of Elitch Gardens, an amusement Park in Denver, and the giant wooden roller coaster that had been sheer terror and exhilaration to us as kids. Riding it was a rite of passage for young men.

“Downtown Denver is one of the most beautiful downtowns in the whole country and they moved Mr. Twister from Elitch Gardens [Mr. Twister is one of the biggest wooden roller coasters in the country] to downtown. It’s gonna be like Coney Island and Atlantic City and to me it’s on that level now. and Mr. Twister ‘aint no joke,” Andre said.

We found some common ground from our childhoods and of the experience growing up in the paradise of Denver, Colorado. It’s times like these when I find someone from this time and place from Denver that I miss my home. It makes me wonder what really makes a home. It makes me think of family and friends and the collective memories of everyone that has come and gone before me. From my time at Loaves & Fishes, I know this: family is where you find it and home can be carried in your heart.

Thanksgiving Care Packages, put together with love

The day before Thanksgiving, John. F. Kennedy High School junior, Victoria Chen, dropped off 192 Thanksgiving care packages at Loaves & Fishes.

The care packages contained essentials for guests like hand sanitizer, chap-stick, socks, deodorant and Kleenex.

Victoria collected the 990 items for the care packages through donation drives that she speerheaded at the Pocket Library, Key Club and the California Scholarship Federation.

She then recruited 50 volunteers to assemble the care packages at the Pocket Library.

“I wanted to bring the whole community in,” Victoria said. “Mostly teenagers came, but some seniors brought their grandchildren. A woman told me that she was glad that she came to volunteer because she was able to work with people of all ages.”

Victoria’s care packages were inspired by a project that she endeavored through the Summer at City Hall Program which engages rising high school juniors and seniors in community service. The project was a donation drive which collected school supplies for homeless shelters and day programs.

“I wanted to do my own take on the project because in the Sacramento area, homelessness is such a big issue,” Victoria said. “The number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 30% since last year. I hope that one little package can bring someone in their deepest, darkest moment joy this Thanksgiving.”

Veteran’s Day Salute

“In the aftermath, we are because they were”. R.J. Heller

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 10, 2017. I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph and honor those veterans who served our country. I can’t help but think of those veterans who served honorably and have had a significant impact on my life.

To Glen, my high school football teammate. He served in Vietnam, and died of a drug overdose several years after he was discharged.

To my good friend Dan who I served with in Italy (1968-1970). Prior to his assignment in Italy Dan had served a tour in Vietnam and was in a communications trailer that was hit by a rocket. Dan was the only one who survived. He married Caroline, had two daughters and committed suicide in the early 1980s.

To Tommy (Army) and Malcolm (Marine) who were my Criminology and Political Science students at Joliet State Prison in the late 1970s. Both men were serving life sentences: Malcolm for killing a police officer during the anti-war demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968; and, Tommy for murdering another pimp.

To Robert, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, who I prosecuted for killing his girlfriend. Robert is currently serving his time in a California prison.

To all of those homeless veterans who I regularly encounter as a Mercy Pedaler on Sacramento streets. You deserve better. There should be no homeless veterans.

To my good friends and photographer buddies Tom (Army) and Robert (Navy), who still stand tall and remain true coffee warriors.

To three generations of Filters (my dad, daughter and myself) who served in the Air Force. I did not learn that my father was awarded the Silver Star in WW II until after he died.

Thank you. I am because you were.

Gale Filter, USAF (1966-1970)

One City, One County, One Plan

Tuesday afternoon, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to use $44 million from their Mental Health Service Act funding over the next three year as a means to partner with the City of Sacramento in addressing homelessness. This partnership is a bold step forward.

Therefore, when we gathered with our fellow Sacramentans yesterday to participate in Hands Across I Street, the symbolic call to action transformed into a celebration of a new partnership. As hundreds of residents and elected officials lined the three blocks that connect the County Board of Supervisors building and City Hall, you could easily hear the chant: “One City, One County, One Plan!”

Gale, one of our volunteer photographers captured several images from the event, check them out below:

Dia de los Muertos

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 3, 2017.  I’m at Friendship Park to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

On Dia de los Muertos, Loaves & Fishes honors the homeless guests who have departed over the past year.  The community recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience.  The departed are a part of the community, present to share the celebration with their loved ones and friends.  At Loaves and Fishes Dia de los Muertos is a day not only of celebration, but also one of reflection, joy and spirituality.

My mind keeps wandering to “Truth” who died in 2017.  I shot these images of Truth at the old Friendship Park in 2016.  Truth loved his music and the day I shot these photos he was strumming his guitar, singing the blues on a warm peaceful day in the park.  As far as I’m concerned Truth was too young to be dead.

So this is a photo tribute to Truth and the homeless who departed in 2017.  Here are some other truths to think about:

In 2016, 79 homeless people died in Sacramento County.  This is a significant increase over the  32 homeless people who died in 2002.  For homeless men, the average age of death is 49.9 years; for women, it is 47.4 years.   That’s decades younger than the 78.8-year life span for Americans.

Below are my photos from Dia de los Muertos.  I believe the presence of the departed can be felt in some of these images.

Tim and Patty

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Tim and Patty, a heartfelt couple who often finish each other’s sentences, spoke with me at the Loaves & Fishes library about their experiences living in Stockton, California as a homeless couple and how they came to relocate to Sacramento.

Patty began to tell me the story of how they lost many of their belongings. Caltrans, along with Stockton Police Department, did a massive clean-up in Stockton a few months back.  During the clean-up, Caltrans threw away tents, medications, and other valuable items. As Patty explained to me, certain items might not seem valuable to a person with a home, but to someone who is homeless, those items do have value and can be hard to get. Patty explained to me that this wasn’t the first “clean-up” done by Caltrans and Stockton PD and won’t be their last. As Patty speaks of their experience, Tim speaks up, “One time I was going through the alley with all my stuff on my cart in the Slough where we stayed and Caltrans wouldn’t let me out of the Slough and they said the only way I could get out of the Slough was to leave all my stuff behind.  All my belongings: 2 bikes, my cart, the dog food for our dog (a 160 pound Rottweiler) and they wouldn’t let us walk out of there.  Everyone’s stuff was just piled high.”

After this Caltrans event, Tim and Patty left Stockton and the Slough and moved up to Sacramento to live near the River, and to help out one of their children while waiting for their SSI and GA to start. Tim and Patty have extremely unique and creative ideas about how to help homeless people and their community. Patty has talked to city council, the Sacramento mayor and has spoken in other venues to try and get their message heard.

Patty looks up from the brown Formica library table where we are talking and looks me in the eye, “Most of the people out there are like us. Waiting for our SSI and certain things to happen. One minute you are way up here (she raises her slender hand above her head and makes it dance), the next minute you are living paycheck to paycheck and the next minute you are living in a tent”. Tim breaks in, “We both come from good places. I use to own houses, buy houses and flip houses and she was a secretary since she graduated high school, a legal secretary, and now we are homeless living in a tent.”

Patty chimes in, “[This is currently] by choice because we won’t live with relatives, where we have certain rules, not at our age, and that’s our own thing but when people think of homeless they think of mental health patients and mental health [care] failed a long time ago. It’s just us out there.”

Tim kicks down, his work-worn hand tapping the table, “We help out the community more than anything because if it wasn’t for us, a lot of the cans and a lot of the bottles and a lot of the other materials that people who do have homes throw out as waste.”  He’s speaking about garbage that gets tossed out on a daily basis from residential homes.  “They [people who do have homes] worry about a lot of us going through their garbage but we are going through their garbage because we know what’s in there that could be recycled and it’s not just always cans. There’s lighters, toilet paper, there are so many different things that we can recycle as a homeless person.”

Tim goes on to talk about the importance of trust, “We want more of the community to have more trust with the homeless. If they come up and ask for a job, or if they ask you ‘can I get a peach off your tree?’ or ‘can I do some yard work for you?’ at least they are not trying to take it from you. They are trying to earn it.”

Patty’s and Tim’s ideas are innovative.  “We want to start a temporary employment service that hire homeless to small business and in-home care.”  Patty is speaking of tent-care when she speaks of in-home care. She presented her ideas to a local small business association.  “The small business association loved the idea and there is so much potential [for homeless workers] to make money and to make a difference in the homeless community. There are many people who need in-home care right here in their tent and they still get SSI and why not get a [qualified and able] homeless person? This way you could pair up disabled people with health care workers, because we we’re doing it already out there, and we had a circle that we kept, very tight knit, with people who are compatible. Hey, you are homeless, and you are homeless and now we are both out here homeless [so let’s help out our homeless community].”

Patty goes on to say, “Some of them die because they need in-home care and people out here who are already homeless are out here doing it and they are not getting paid for it.”  The reality is that if they were in a home, they would be paid.  “Small businesses were asking what would work.”

Patty’s hopeful in her ideas, “Teaching people how to work in employment with skills they already know how to do, getting a contractor to let another person work under them that did it themselves before so they can get back to work. When you go back to work again, there’s nothing like making your own money when someone hands it to you, a paycheck, it gives you self-worth.  [It adds] a value to your life and you feel good and that will put you back up on top. Just that feeling alone will give you the confidence to be able to do anything.”

“I told Tim when we met one small success at a time and you’ll be able to achieve anything,” concludes Patty.

An Hour (or at least 20 minutes) in the Mustard Seed Front Office

Casey Knittel, the program director of Mustard Seed, in front of one of the many murals which bring brightness, creativity and whimsy to Mustard Seed.

Casey Knittel has been with Mustard Seed since 2009. She started out as one of our Student Resource Specialists, before becoming a Montessori certified teacher, and eventually transitioning into the Assistant Director role before leaving for a two-year stint in Development at Loaves & Fishes. Today, Casey is our Mustard Seed Program Director. 

“Mustard Seed is a place where you see pure love in action, and there’s no place I would rather be!”


Since this is a place for stories, and for little glimpses into the world of North C Street, I wanted to let you in on some of the gentle loving craziness of the days we spend serving kids experiencing homelessness at Mustard Seed School:

After working at Loaves & Fishes for over eight years, I still feel that every day challenges me to reach a deeper level of presence. I want to meet each moment, meet each child, meet each parent, and give them the full attention they deserve. Some hours that’s easier than others.

With such a small school staff, two days a week at noon our office manager, Liana needs to help supervise the students for lunch and recess. Since I am the only other staff member who works in our front office, I gear up ahead of time to be present for that hour.

As Liana leaves her desk, I settle into the rhythm of whatever the moment brings.

On a recent Thursday, it didn’t take long for things to get started.

Just before noon, our preschool teacher Stacy banged through the back door with three year old twins who were being dismissed early that day. Their parents hadn’t arrived yet, but one of the twins was having a hard time eating lunch in her classroom and had been yelling and throwing food. She was amped up, so her teacher was bringing her to the office to finish waiting. Stacy sat down and skillfully soothed her while I got a coloring book for her brother. She calmed a little and was interested in coloring too.

Stacy went back to her classroom just as one of our Loaves & Fishes dining room volunteers came through the front door. He had dictionaries to donate for our older kids. He handed me a plastic bag of books. I thanked him and turned my attention back to our small student, who was now breaking her crayons in half and throwing them.

The phone rang, it was one of our preschool moms letting us know that she would also be picking up her daughter early. There was a free harvest festival for kids going on a few blocks over at Women’s Empowerment. Our preschool assistant teacher, Tracy brought her daughter up to the front office to wait. She sat quietly on a bench.

My child total was up to three in our small waiting area.

Then Chakira, our K-2 teacher, rushed through the back door with a first grader who had fallen and needed first aid. He was crying. Chakira went to bring him his lunch while I took care of him.

Our front door opened and our afternoon volunteer, Terri came in to lend a hand. She sat with our first grader and started chatting with him, helped him calm down.

Our 6th-8th grade teacher JD came in the backdoor to make copies and prepare for an afternoon field trip.

At this point, our tiny crayon-throwing student was looking for attention again. She checked to make sure I was looking and started shaking a lamp as if she might push it to the ground. I took her hand and had her stay close to me. Her twin brother had found stickers in his coloring book and was putting them on his face. I reminded him that stickers are for paper just as two more parents came through the front door.

One mom signed out her daughter, who was waiting quietly on the bench, while the another mom needed her son to be woken up from naptime to go to the harvest festival. She didn’t know she needed to tell us in advance if she didn’t want him to rest. JD went to our preschool classroom and brought the sleepy four year old up to meet his mom.

As those families left, another mom came in. She and her children had spent last night sleeping on Ahern Street, and she was scared and shaken by the experience. They had heard a bad fight just outside their tent and had to pray that they stayed safe behind the tent walls.  She had just met with an outreach worker from the County and she needed me to sign and fax a form verifying their homelessness, with the hope she might get some help. Seeing how many kids were still in the office, the mom left the form with me to do as soon as possible.

I tried, but failed to get that form faxed over while I still had my little preschool friend in tow. That would need to wait. I could hear emails arriving at my desk. Those would need to wait too.

Two of our middle school students were brought into the office. They had gotten heated at lunch and had been arguing and name calling. One of them was the daughter of the mom who just left, who had been in the tent on Ahern last night. The other was a returning Mustard Seed student who had been sleeping in a car with his mother and three siblings on North A Street, close to the school.

I separated them and had them sit to calm down before we tried to resolve anything. At this point it was about 12:20 pm. Still another 40 minutes before lunch and recess were over.

Later, one of those middle-schoolers fell asleep sitting up in her chair. I would need to wake her up before we processed the argument with a self-reflection strategy that is part of our school’s social-emotional curriculum.

Eventually, all of the students were picked up by their parents or went back to class. Eventually, all the forms were faxed, and (hopefully) all the emails answered.

 


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Teaching Me To Love With No Boundaries

Anabelle outside her Mustard Seed office.

Annabelle started her journey with Mustard Seed last year as a Jesuit Volunteer where she embraced the Jesuit values of: spirituality, a simple lifestyle, community living, and social justice.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) is the largest lay Catholic full-time volunteer program in the world. They aim to aspire the creation of a more just and hopeful world. Therefore, this service program “engages passionate young people in vital service with poor communities, fostering the growth of leaders committed to faith in action”(JVC).

Annabelle has remained with Mustard Seed as a student resource specialist. Therefore, she tests all the students that come to Mustard Seed to see where they are at academically. From there, Annabelle works with the teachers in developing an appropriate academic curriculum for the students to follow throughout their time at Mustard Seed, so that they are as prepared as possible for when they enroll into public school (i.e. tutoring).

She also attends Sacramento County’s homeless task force meetings with homeless liaisons to discuss ways to give children who are experiencing homelessness the necessary resources and tools to receive a successful education.

Below you will find Annabelle’s reflection on a family that taught her how to love with no boundaries. 


Driving the children to and from their motels was one of the biggest highlights for me as a JV last year. I had the opportunity to drive a family of 5 for three months – a family that lifted me up and added onto the miracles, love, and compassion of Mustard Seed that I had felt the very first day I started working there. This family of 5 was always so incredibly excited to go to school and had such a strong family bond that was so visible from a mile away. I vividly remember during our car rides driving through a neighborhood to and from their motel and the children would point out houses that they would hope to one day live in – “That brown house! That could fit all of us!” They were always so optimistic despite the situation they were in because they had each other.

The last day of school was one of the hardest days for me at Mustard Seed. I prepared myself all week for that day, as I knew I was going to have to say my last goodbye to many of the children. In addition to saying goodbye to those children, I also had to brace myself for the goodbye that was going to come for this family of 5. I drove into the parking lot of the SkyRider motel, parked the car, and all 5 children unbuckled, got out of their seats, said their goodbyes and gave me their hugs, and walked into their motel room. And as children, I don’t think it crossed their mind that it may be the last time they saw me. I said bye to mom and drove away and the moment I left, tears fell down my face as reality hit me that that was the last time I was going to see them.

A week went by and the Mustard Seed summer program started. My co-JV, Emily, and I were in charge of planning a field trip based summer program for the kids and Emily and I were determined to give them the best summer they ever had. As opposed to during the school year where sign-ins are in the front office, sign-ins were now on the playground. We took out playground equipment, had all our forms, and were ready for the summer program to start. Many of the kids during the academic school year saw the flyers that were posted in the office, so they knew about the program. One of the 5 children asked their mom during one car ride if they could attend, but mom did not know how they would get there because transportation was not offered during the summer. I didn’t expect for them to come, but the miracles of Mustard Seed truly played out.

For a brief moment, I went to the PE closet to get a ball out for a child and that was when I heard Emily yell one of the names of the children & this family came running onto the playground. The family I was so sad about saying goodbye to, the family I thought I would never see once more, was there. My heart was so incredibly full.

The last day of summer program was another hard day, but once again, they came through that gate and came running onto the playground. Saying goodbye to this family for a second time was honestly more difficult than the first, but I’m forever grateful for the time I was given with them. This family, those children, changed my life completely. I have been blessed to be a part of their lives and them in mine. And despite how many times I say it, the children at Mustard Seed teach me more than I do to them – so to each child that I have had the privilege of spending time with, thank you for making me smile on my hardest days, for every hug that lifted my spirits up, and most importantly, for teaching me to love with no boundaries. I’m advocating for each one of you always.


Check out Mustard Seed’s Amazon Wish List .

Keep up with Mustard Seed on Facebook!

Call (916)-447-3626 to learn more about Mustard Seed and to find out how you can show your support!

Leota Canady

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

His artwork and journalism will begin appearing on our blog once a week. Doug operates his own photography studio — you can check out his work here

I made Leota’s portrait in June 2017 at the Loaves & Fishes library. The key around her neck caught the light; the silver metal winked and touched my eye. Loeta’s key reminded me of the latchkey my Mom gave me that I, too, wore around my neck to get into our house after school when I was a little kid.

I asked her, “What does the key mean to you?”

Stamped into the worn metal key Leota wore was the word “Chosen.” “God has “Chosen” me and He has me here for a purpose. He has something planned for you, too, but we don’t know what that is. But He knows our every step”.

Leota looked down at the ground, scanning, searching for the words. She lifted her head back up, meeting my gaze, her brown eyes twinkling in the soft sunlight. “We don’t know when things will happen because it’s on His time. God’s will, not ours, be done. To walk and have faith in Him and know He’s got something planned? That’s what “Chosen” means to me.”