The only true guardian of peace lies within: a sense of concern and responsibility for your own future and an altruistic concern for the well-being of others.
World Peace Day-September 21, 2017.
I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph the dedication of Friendship Park’s new Peace Pole. Peace Poles are recognized throughout the world as the most prominent international symbol and monument to peace. Peace Poles bear the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in all the languages of the world. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Peace Poles that have been dedicated in nearly every country on Earth.
Friendship Park is a safe haven for Sacramento’s homeless, a sanctuary where a little piece of peace can be found and shared. May you find some peace in these images.
In the emergency room of Dignity Health’s Methodist Hospital, in South Sacramento, ordinary snacks serve a noble cause. Caz Sliwa, a registered nurse, operates Kindness Cantina, which provides hospital staff with soda, coffee, chips and the opportunity to give back to their homeless neighbors for just a dollar. He has volunteered at Loaves & Fishes for the past three years.
Sliwa stocks and maintains the venue that buys a monthly nutritious breakfast served by him and fellow emergency room employees to the guests of Friendship Park. Sliwa’s manager came up with the idea for Kindness Cantina after the hospital did away with all of its vending machines, leaving the staff without an outlet for snacking pleasures.
The Kindness Cantina, stationed in the staff break room, operates through the honor system: patrons fork over a buck for each snack purchased.
“We supply potato chips, Doritos, candy and cans of soda, and it is great for our staff and especially our nighttime staff to have the opportunity to buy snacks because in the middle of the night, they can’t go anywhere to get food,” Sliwa said.
The proceeds afford a nutritious breakfast for guests of Friendship Park, including hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and homemade oatmeal topped with brown sugar, raisins and milk. The morning meal serves about 300 and costs about $550 to put together.
Sliwa and his co-workers also bring survival supplies from the hospital to Friendship Park, such blankets, inflatable mattresses and socks.
A Loaves & Fishes sock donation bag stationed in the hopsital.
The best part about volunteering, Sliwa says, is being able to make a difference in the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness. “Many of us are nurses; and that’s why we became nurses, because we like to help people,” he said.
“We set our breakfast up so that everything that we do is portable – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a baggie is going to last a long time and we make hardboiled eggs so that they can eat those anytime of the day,” Sliwa said. “I’ve heard people say that this is great that we have dinner for tonight.”
Though the group only serves the breakfast once a month, the Kindness Cantina provides Methodist Hospital staff the opportunity to give back 365 days a year.
“For us, the breakfast program is really a daily thing at Methodist Hopsital to draw people to support Loaves & Fishes,” Sliwa said. “I have one guy who told me that he never thought that he would pay $50 a month for peanut M&Ms, but because he knows where the money is going; he drops a $20 bill in the money bucket for Kindness Cantina and will take out several packages of peanut M&Ms over the course of a week.”
Randy Rodda who volunteers in the Friendship Park kiosk and the dining room shares what it is like to work in Friendship Park, where many who are experiencing homelessness find comfort, community and a safe place to rest their eyes.
Loaves & Fishes staffers and volunteers put on their game face — humility, empathy and elbow grease — while dispensing some of the comforts of home to those who have none.
This scene plays out in kind daily from a kiosk in Friendship Park, where guests form a queue outside two service windows to obtain lunch tickets, crucial information and the bare necessities for confronting the rigors and uncertainties of life without hearth or home.
By way of introduction, I’m a novice volunteer in the kiosk, stationed here on Thursdays, mostly behind a computer screen and keyboard, signing up the hundreds who depend heavily on a hearty lunch to fill the void of diets that too often are fed by slim pickings.
This task is not far-flung from my career as an editor for the daily newspaper in Buffalo, N.Y., from where I retired recently before moving closer to my daughter in Sacramento. Both tasks are filled with uncertainties, deadline pressures and a never-ending learning curve — all hinged on the hopes that you’re doing right by folks who really, really depend on you.
Some guests arriving at Friendship Park are newly homeless, in need of just about everything, including survival gear and encouraging advice on how to navigate and survive in an affluent community that talks the talk about solutions for housing the homeless but, as yet, can’t seem to walk the walk.
Others guests are veterans of the dilemma, and rely on Friendship Park as a daily lifeline, way station and social circle, beginning with coffee at 7 a.m. to last call about mid-afternoon. From here, they branch out to take advantage of myriad services, from the simple luxury of taking a shower to exchanging clothing and shoes weathered by life on the streets.
Carol Brown, my co-volunteer in the park kiosk on Thursdays, is a veteran Loaves & Fishes volunteer of many years. She is a role model of composure and a comfort to both staffers and guests — unflappable in the face of the unexpected and a constant reminder that the job is always a learning experience. No experts need apply.
Our kiosk domain features drawers, shelves, nooks and crannies containing articles of great importance to the guests, who spend much time outdoors.
There are safety pins and sewing kits that extend the life of clothing, backpacks and sleeping bags. There are shoelaces.
Sunscreen, lip balm and bug repellent are essentials, especially for the extremes of the Sacramento summer. Hygiene kits distributed toward the end of the Friendship Park day include shampoo, conditioner, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Also available are mouthwash, sanitizer, tissue packs, wet wipes, dental floss, combs and nail clippers.
The kiosk is an over-the-counter source for painkillers, including aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen — a welcome comfort for those who log miles of harsh life on sore feet. There are vitamins, antacids and Band-aids and antiseptics.
Though the promise of sundries and articles for the guests is consistent, availability is not always guaranteed. Sometimes there are shortages and other times things just run out. Candy is always in demand, especially before lunch, but the sweet treats are largely dependent on what is donated.
This modest kiosk also serves as nerve central for Friendship Park and services, including day storage for guests, bicycle sign-up and cellphone charging.
Park administrator Hannah Ozanian works aside a determined crew of staffers who mingle with guests, make sure resources are available and ensure order and the well-being for all.
Just outside the front window of the kiosk, guests can sign up for health insurance options. Nearby, housing counseling and veterans outreach services are available.
But for many of the guests, the Friendship Park experience is down time — relaxation on benches, with some even managing to catch a few winks. Others play cards or catch up on shared interests.
And, on special days, community musicians provide the familiar tunes and backbeat for some good-natured karaoke — typically, a post-lunch coda to another day at Friendship Park.
From this volunteer’s outlook from the kiosk, very little is ever routine and every day serves up a unique set of challenges.
This nothing-new, nothing-ventured analogy is one explanation for why the dedication of volunteers like Carol Brown is counted in the years. Making a difference in the lives of others is a rich reward, indeed.
When Shon first came to Loaves & Fishes, he was simply looking to get a TB test. Instead, he left with a TB test, two sleeping bags, and a newfound community.
Shon’s first experience with Loaves & Fishes caused him to feel safe, secure, and loved by the staff, the volunteers, and the other guests. And this has caused him to return to Loaves & Fishes whenever his life needs it, most recently since June.
Therefore, on most days you can find Shon sitting on a bench under the new mist-ers, facing towards the entrance of Friendship Park. He arrives at Loaves & Fishes a little after 7am, but not before making a quick stop at a shelter to check-in and see where he stands on their waiting list. Each week he has moved up, closer and closer to getting a bed. And each week he provides a mountain of knowledge to all who enter Friendship Park.
Shon gains this knowledge both from his personal experiences and through his time spent in the park. Throughout the day you will find him wandering the park as he catches up with both guests and staff.
Shon is always making connections with others, learning from their knowledge and experiences before he passes that knowledge onto someone else.
When asked what advice he could offer, he simply put: “If I don’t have the information that you need, then always talk to a green hat”. And that definitely is true. Shon is the person that always has the answer, anywhere from CalFresh options to shelter requirements to the safest places to rest. He almost always has the answer. Or at least knows who to talk with to get the answer. And it is all due to his interactions within the park each day.
Lastly, I asked Shon what is his favorite part of Friendship Park and his immediate response was, “I simply like being in the park”. To him, you cannot separate out each aspect of the park and say that it stands alone. Rather, Friendship Park is a safe place because of all the programs it provides: from the washroom to the service center, it all comes together be a space of peace.
So, the next time you visit Friendship Park, make sure to say “hello” to Shon.