Samuel’s Story

Samuel Cunningham, a current guest at Loaves and Fishes, has been homeless for the past six months.

He moved to Sacramento from Nebraska after he rekindled his relationship with his father who he has been estranged from for 27 years.

In Sacramento, Samuel pursued a welding, machining and engineering program, found love and got to know his father, a former Hell’s Angel who now is clean-shaven and works at a thrift store. Samuel supported himself by driving Lyft and rented an apartment in South Sacramento.

When he wanted his fiancé, Kaya, to move in with him, he had an argument with his roommate. After that, his car was stolen along with his social security card and birth certificate.

The event spelled the couple’s descent into homelessness and the disintegration of Samuel’s relationship with his roommate.

For two months, the couple lived out of a tent that Samuel’s father purchased for them in South Sacramento and quickly ran through their savings and monthly allotment of Calfresh dollars.

“When you are homeless, you don’t have a kitchen to cook in so it is amazing how fast your money for food goes,” he said. “We didn’t have any place to store food so we’d just go to the gas station and the dollar store and buy small packages of lunch meat, loaves of bread, snacks and drinks. When we ran through food stamps, I started collecting cans. It was pretty rough.”

A few of the couple’s friends would invite them over for dinner in exchange for Samuel’s mechanic services.

“I have 20 years of experience as a drywall contractor, but no one will hire me without an ID or a birth certificate,” Samuel said.

Samuel has worked since he was fourteen years old. He has often worked construction jobs during the day and then managed a variety of businesses including a McDonalds, a gas station, a bar and a movie theatre in the evening throughout his career.

“I was raised by my step-dad who was a Navy Seal, he taught me the merit of hard work,” Samuel said. “I’d love to take any job I could get even though I haven’t worked for minimum wage since I was 14 years old.”

Samuel and Kaya didn’t discover Loaves and Fishes until they had lived on the streets for months. The discovery of the homeless survival center has made their lives easier.

“The features that Loaves and Fishes offers are really awesome,” Samuel said. “It so wonderful to be able to get a backpack, camping gear, tarps and coffee at Friendship park. A lot of the staff is really friendly and truly goes the extra mile for you. Cycles for Hope  comes here to fix bikes and occasionally gives bikes away.”

Through the Street Sheet, a homeless resource guide, that Loaves and Fishes hands out, Samuel and Kaya have learned how to maximize their resources. On weekdays, they get breakfast at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, lunch in the dining room of Loaves and Fishes and dinner at Union Gospel Mission. They also grab food to eat on the weekends at food pantries.

“We only qualify for $185 Calfresh dollars, but if you manage that money wisely, it can last a long time,” he said. “We shop at Grocery Outlet and the 99 cent store to save money.”

“I joke around and say that being homeless is kind of like being on vacation, but a very sucky vacation,” he said. “You don’t have worry about bills, but you have to deal with some people who are difficult people. I have OCD so I like everything to be neat and organized, but not everybody feels the same way that I do. The police just moved us from the river to a lot behind the casino and said that if we keep it clean, we won’t get arrested for being there. I police the area and pick up the mess that other people make and because of that sometimes people get angry at me for being in their space. If you get camping tickets, you have to do community service and after so many tickets, they take you to jail and you can’t get any of your stuff back for 90 days. I feel lucky that I’ve never gotten a camping ticket.”

Samuel likes to keep busy by engineering and designing bike carts. He recently built a 6-foot-long bike cart that has a dog kennel in the back. He charges others $25 an hour to build the carts which he can quickly assemble.

He is currently working with a navigator from Sacramento Steps Forward who he met at Loaves and Fishes. The navigator is helping Samuel acquire his social security card and birth certificate.

Corey & Jackie

Corey is devoted to his Jack Russell terrier named Jackie.

“She’s my baby. I got her a year and a half ago. I kept calling the SPCA to see if they had a Jack Russell Terrier and they called me and said that they had a dog that I might be interested in. I met her and I almost started crying. I lost my other dog to cancer and meeting her was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s my love and joy to protect her. I would give her all of my clothes just to keep her warm.”

Corey has been homeless for a year and a half. His mom was a school teacher and his dad was a pilot. For years, he worked as a nurse.

“I’ve been coming here for a month and seven days,” he said about Loaves & Fishes.

“Sister Libby is the nicest lady in the whole world, she says that in about a month she is going to take some time off and start a bicycle ministry. I’m going to help her.”

Peggy’s new smile changed her life

Peggy Sewell’s transformation started with a cosmetic change — through Obamacare, she was able to refurbish her smile, damaged by years of meth use.

For the first time in years, she was able to smile without feeling self-conscious. Her new pearly whites inspired her to look inward and to heal what was bruised in her soul.

“I got Obamacare and my teeth and I said well now it’s time to work on the rest of me,” she said.

Peggy stopped doing drugs in 2009. When she decided to get clean, she left town to help her niece, Sunny, take care of her children in Susanville. Peggy smoked her last bit of meth en route to be with Sunny. Since then, she has quit smoking cigarettes and weed.

“I was at a crossroads and it was way past my time,” she said.  “I was at a point where I was just floating; it didn’t feel like I was living.”

On November 13th, 1979 when Peggy was driving her daughter to school, she accidentally hit a 79 year old woman who was crossing the street. The woman died after the accident.

Peggy was 24 years old. Her memories from that morning have never left her.

“I had a fix it ticket on the break light of my car,” she said. “The day before I had to drive my daughter to school, my dad asked me if I got the fix it ticket signed off by a cop and I said that I hadn’t. He told me that you just have to pull a cop over and show them your fixed lights and get them to sign off on your ticket.”

The next morning, Peggy was at a traffic light with her daughter and a cop car was stopped in front of her at the light. She was preoccupied by the cop’s presence — worried that he would stop her and see that she didn’t get her ticket signed. She had to turn left on the two lane road.

“I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t all herky-jerky so my foot was hovering over the gas and the brake and I just wanted to make sure that I got into the center lane smoothly,” she said. “There was shade on the corner. It was close to 9:00 am in the morning. So as I entered the intersection and the crosswalk, a 79 year old lady just appeared at my windshield and I said, ‘Oh my God!’ and my daughter panicked. I was afraid to slam on my breaks because I didn’t want to throw her to the street. I just coasted for about three houses and she just slid off of my car and her head hit the street. I didn’t hit her; it just felt like we collided.”

Peggy had to go to jail because she never got her fix-it ticket signed. After getting out of jail, Peggy called the hospital multiple times to check on the woman. Four hours after her last attempt to learn about the woman’s condition, the hospital staff told her that the woman “had expired.”

“I’ve been dealing with that since November 13th, 1979,” Peggy said. “I have a very strong feeling that this is one of the things in my life that has kept me on drugs for so long. I would just stay self-medicated and then Obamacare saved my life. If not for Obamacare, I wouldn’t have been able to take care of my teeth. I wouldn’t have been able to get a therapist. But, now, I have great teeth and have grown immensely. I have no desire to do drugs, but I have a strong desire to find out what I want to be when I grow up. It’s time, I’m 61 years old.”

After taking care of her niece’s children, Peggy couch surfed and saw a therapist who recommended that she enroll in a course at Women’s Empowerment.

Lisa Culp, the executive director of Women’s Empowerment, suggested that Peggy try to live at Sister Nora’s place, a long-term shelter for women with a history of trauma and mental and physical illness operated by Loaves & Fishes. Culp got Peggy in touch with Tricia Nelson, the director of Sister Nora’s place who then arranged for Peggy to meet with Vince Gallo, the director of Genesis who approves the intake for residents of Sister Nora’s place. Genesis is Loaves & Fishes mental health program and offers free counseling, group therapy and social work services.

Peggy was accepted into Sister Nora’s Place and she has been a resident at Sister Nora’s for almost a year.

The living room at Sister Nora’s Place.

“Sister Nora’s place is a very secure, warm and comfortable place,” she said. “I’m never worried about what is going to happen tomorrow when I am there. Sister Nora’s is drug and alcohol free so it’s a wonderful thing because we are all in the same place – trying to be clean and be good to ourselves.”

“I call Sister Nora’s Place a program because shelter just seems so sad and I am not sad there,” she said. “I’ve grown leaps and bounds since I’ve been there.”

Sister Nora’s place is adorned with artwork, photos, personal mementos and communal spaces.

The Sister Nora’s Dining Room — every night volunteers from the community bring and cook dinner for the residents and guests of Sister Nora’s.

On the second floor, long-term residents sleep in cubicles with a closet, twin-sized bed and set of drawers. Short-term residents sleep in the Hope room which is located on the first floor and furnished with three beds.

Peggy’s bedroom.

“We are all sisters,” Peggy said of her fellow residents at Sister Nora’s. “In the year that I’ve been at Sister Nora’s, we all get along. Of course, sometimes we get on each other’s nerves like old married couples. We are a great support group. I am the crier of the group so if something seems a little emotional everyone will look at me and offer me Kleenex.”

Hope Room where temporary guests of Sister Nora’s sleep.

Peggy frequents Genesis for therapy with Director Vince Gallo.

“Vince has helped me grow immensely since I’ve started to see him,” she said. “He pointed out to me – not that I didn’t know that I was holding onto something that I shouldn’t have been – that there is a name for what I’m doing it’s called OOCD – primarily obsessional obsessive compulsive disorder and I’ve been basically ruminating on 1979. I just keep playing it over and over again in my mind and it’s not going away. It will probably never go away.”

Now that she isn’t on drugs, Peggy’s memories of the accident are stronger, but with the support of Sister Nora’s Place and Genesis, Peggy feels stronger too.

The Sister Nora’s community room (where coffee is brewed and snacks are shared).

Each weekday, she works from 8 am to 9 am at the Loaves & Fishes Welcoming Center and often works on an on-call basis in the afternoon.

“I love it because I am being helpful,” she said. “I’m 61 years old so it is not too strenuous and I could do it for many, many years and still be able to come here and enjoy what I’m doing because no two hours are alike.”

As the receptionist for the Welcoming Center, Peggy fields calls from donors, volunteers and people experiencing homelessness in need of resources.

“This job has given me a purpose and being here [at Loaves & Fishes] has made me humble,” she said. “Last year at this time, I never would have seen myself here. My niece comes and picks me up and she says, ‘It makes me sad every time that I come pick you up from here.’ So I brought her in and gave her a tour of Sister Nora’s Place. She then understood how warm and homey it is inside. When people see my name tag, I feel like I am a part of the Loaves & Fishes family.”

Samuel’s new home inspires hope

Samuel Sneed, a Friendship Park guest, just moved into a six bedroom apartment on March 21 in North Sacramento which he shares with roommates. The apartment is operated by Sacramento Self Help Housing.

Samuel speaks elegantly about God, love and the inhumanity of homelessness. His dream is to use his words to preach.

Originally from Chicago, he moved to Sacramento when his son started school as a photography major at Sacramento State. Samuel became homeless after he and his wife separated.

“My family is back in Chicago so I ended up at the Mission because I’m not one to be leaning on anyone and that’s where it started,” he said. “I did want to run back to home, but God has a way of putting everything in order.”

Samuel says that he survived the inhumanity of homelessness because he had a mission — to show those experiencing homelessness that he could do the seemingly impossible — acquire permanent housing.

“I took it upon me and my heart that someone could make it into housing,” he said. “It’s hard to get inspired waking up every day out of a sleeping bag and a tent, but I did it”

People who are homeless feel like they don’t belong to the community, Samuel said.

“They are all hurting inside from not feeling loved and being rejected from their family and society,” he said. “Because society gave up on them, they are giving up on life.”

Samuel doesn’t believe that the word homeless should be used.

“Housing is just a shelter to keep your roof over your head and home is here,” he explained as he gestured to his heart.

“Being without shelter should not mean that you are without a home,” Samuel said. “I belong to America and this is the land of milk and honey. I’m home.”

“God tells us to love each other unconditionally and I don’t think that is promoted enough in churches,” he said. “Human beings are one of god’s greatest creations and we should all love each other unconditionally. I think that people can’t learn to love until they love themselves. That’s how we were taught to survive as babies.”

“Loaves & Fishes is God,” Samuel said. “It is Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of saying this is what I want in life – to love unconditionally. I’ve been to all kinds of churches, but I notice that right here, this is straight from heaven.”

Donald Lewis: Bike renovator, handyman and Loaves & Fishes volunteer

Donald Lewis delights in bringing new life to objects that are in disrepair.

He volunteers at Friendship Park on Wednesday and Friday, the Loaves & Fishes maintenance shed on Tuesday and Thursday and then Tuesday and Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Bicycle Kitchen.

Donald has refurbished his 1970’s era, 9 foot chopper cruiser bike himself. It has a radio with speakers attached to its handle.

A relative newcomer to Sacramento, he  recently rode his chopper all the way to historic Folsom. Originally from Woodland, Colorado, he is enamored with Sacramento’s bike trails.

“I taught myself how to ride a bicycle when I was 7 years old and have been building and riding bicycles ever since,” Donald said.

He bikes to Loaves & Fishes from his home in Tahoe Park nearly every day.

Donald said the most important lesson, he has learned in life has been how to approach others with the desire to learn from them.

He knows intimately what it is like to be judged for his demeanor and physique rather than for his intellect or talent.

“People have a tendency to judge me because I stutter and walk with a limp” he said. “They don’t immediately notice my talents or intellect.”

“The Loaves & Fishes staff smile every time I show up – that makes me feel welcome because I feel like I am a part of their family,” he said.

“There are a lot of really good people at Loaves & Fishes that care for a lot of people here,” Donald said. “There are a lot of people with psych problems who would have nowhere else to go if it wasn’t for this community of people who care so much.”

Wally’s 74th birthday heralds a reunion

On March 21st, 2017, Wally Stoves, a regular at Friendship Park, turned 74 years old. His former coworkers, Andy Smillick and Bob Taylor came to the park to celebrate his birthday with a cake in tow.

Wally has been experiencing homelessness for the past 25 years and this was the first time they connected since he started living on the streets. The three men worked together for the city before Wally had a tragic motorcycle accident that resulted in a brain injury.

Wally was brought to the window of the coffee shack  and Andy and Bob surprised him with cake. The sweet confection went quickly on the rainy day as the old friends reminisced in the coffee shack.






“It’s refreshing,” Wally said of the surprise. “I like seeing the old friends. We go back to some crazy times.”

Wally likes to come to Friendship Park to people watch. The best lesson that he’s gleaned from life is learning how take everything one day at time.

Lots of laughter was shared by the old acquaintances who will reunite in a few days for a work reunion in El Dorado Hills.