Posted: 12/04/2010 01:36:57 PM PST
Thousands of homeless people throughout the Bay Area will have toasty hands and feet this winter thanks to about 300 volunteers who gathered in Novato early Saturday morning to assemble packs with warm clothing for them.
Volunteers began arriving at Unity in Marin church for the annual Warm Wishes and MarinLink event at about 7:45 a.m. to assemble 5,000 packs with gloves, socks, caps, scarves, rain ponchos and holiday cards from schoolchildren. A mad scramble ensued with volunteers of all ages working in assembly lines, singing carols and carrying boxes to cars waiting outside.
The work was done by about 9:30 a.m., but many volunteers were preparing to make deliveries to agencies around the Bay Area, such as the Ritter Center, Homeward Bound, Glide Memorial Church and the St. Vincent de Paul societies of San Francisco and Marin County. Others planned to hand out packs to individuals on the streets of San Rafael, San Francisco and Berkeley, among other cities.
“I love the chaos,” said Salomi Galodamu, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Miller Creek Middle School who was frantically stuffing packs with gloves and hats with a group from San Rafael First United Methodist Church.
“It’s really fun — I kind of like the working together part,” added her friend, 11-year-old Amaya Hauswald of Berkeley.
From gloves to packs
Bill Hamm, a 57-year-old San Rafael resident, started the program about 17 years ago after giving his gloves on a whim to a homeless man sitting on the ground outside Tiffany & Co. in San Francisco’s Union Square. The man was so grateful that Hamm decided to buy a few hundred more pairs of gloves at the Novato Target and hand them out to homeless people a few days later.
Friends and family later got involved, as well as classmates from Hamm’s 1971 Sir Francis Drake High School graduating class, and the program became an annual event and swelled to its current size.
“I get a charge … to see everybody else have the opportunity that I once had,” said Hamm, who still carries the packs in his car to hand out to homeless people all winter.
“A lot of them are going to go on the street and have an exposure themselves today,” he said, gesturing to the volunteers. “It’s really different. You’re going up and handing stuff out to people instead of trying to avoid them.”
Corporate and individual donations fund the program, which costs about $50,000 a year to run, said Mary O’Mara, MarinLink’s executive director. The suggested donation for volunteers Saturday was $10 a person.
MarinLink has only raised about $40,000 this year because of the weak economy and is still hoping donations will fill in the $10,000 gap, O’Mara said.
A group of about 50 current and former University of San Francisco students drove to Novato to join their professor David Griffis of Marinwood, helping out for the sixth consecutive year.
Griffis said volunteer work complements their academic studies.
“I had a professor years ago who used to say, ‘It’s not what you have at the end of the day. It’s what you share along the way,’” he said.
Anh Phan, a 23-year-old business administration student from Vietnam who came with the group, said she welcomed the opportunity to help the poor.
“Especially in San Francisco, there’s a lot of homeless on the street,” Phan said.
Nearby, Supervisor Susan Adams was hurrying across the room, her hands full of bags.
“I’m the garbage lady today,” Adams said with a laugh. “I’m picking up all the plastic bags.”
Socks, hats mean a lot
Volunteer Nathan Bowers, 37, said he became homeless about a year ago after losing his construction job in Savannah, Ga., and is now staying at the Mary Isaak Center in Petaluma. Bowers said he wanted to help out because he’s benefitting from similar programs.
Having warm socks and a hat is indispensable on the streets during the winter months, he added.
“These are the basic necessities,” Bowers said.
“It’s a little chaotic because there’s so many people, but it’s getting done,” he said, surveying the room. “It’s controlled chaos at its best.”
Contact Jessica Bernstein-Wax at firstname.lastname@example.org