By: Luis Chacon
Province Coordinator for Volunteers
On September 26, three organizations: Salesian Volunteers, St. Joseph Salesian Retreat House and Restless Hearts went to our monthly homeless outreach activity in Skid Row. Tamara and Juan Guzmán helped us organize the Homeless Outreach by gathering clothes and preparing hot food for our brothers and sisters in need.
First we had our Eucharistic celebration at 9:30 am, then at 11:00 am, we got together to reflect and decide on the area in Los Angeles that needs the most help and we decided to go to Skid Row. We packed our cars with all the food and clothes and set off for Skid Row. Near Skid Row there is a restaurant called “Catch 21” where they serve seafood. At Catch 21 we met Kevin, who proactively and tirelessly helps all the volunteers who go to Skid Row to make a difference in the lives of so many homeless.
Kevin received us in a very friendly and warm way, he quickly took out two tables and recommended that we put the clothes on the tables and take the food packages to the streets where the homeless are. Four of us distributed the clothes and helped the homeless choose what clothing they needed while the rest of us distributed food to the homeless on the streets.
It was impressive to see how many people needed help, but it was even more impressive to see how friendly and appreciative many of the homeless were with us. More than one person stopped on their way to thank us for what we were doing for them and for taking the time to be there.
Personally, I am very grateful to the people who take up the challenge and accompany us with helping the homeless. I view Salesian volunteers as heroes who make a difference in this world by their small acts of kindness. For this reason, I have decided to ask some of the Salesian volunteers for their experience serving the homeless in Skid Row.
Melisa, from Saint Dominic Savio Parish, who for years has helped at Camp Savio and who was a missionary volunteer in the Salesian community of Ciudad Juárez for 1 year, shared that she had already volunteered in Skid Row, however the experience she had that time was not entirely pleasant, as some of the homeless were a bit aggressive. This time Melisa shares with us that she had a positive experience. She states that despite the fact that many of the homeless are in a very needy situation, they were very grateful and some were even friendly. Although the homeless were in a complicated situation, some of them haven’t lost their joy nor their hope.
Melisa has shared with us that this experience in Skid Row has helped her continue appreciating everything she has. It has also motivated her to continue helping (since it is something she really likes to do) and to meet all kinds of people.
Evelin, who was a missionary volunteer in Colima, Mexico and is part of the Mission Animation Team of this province shares her experience with us: “I have volunteered in Skid Row for a couple of years and I have seen how similar we are to those that are momentarily without a “home” and find themselves displaced. They seek the love of others, companionship, and food, just like those that find themselves with a home. Through my time volunteering there, I realized that the homeless in Skid Row do have a home, and their home is Skid Row, and the relationships they form in Skid Row. I saw how they cared for each other because some people would ask for two lunches so that they could give one to their friend. I felt like we were guests in their home and space and I was grateful for witnessing their love for each other. I was also in awe of Kevin, who was homeless and lived in Skid Row many years ago, and was now a leader from Catch 21 in helping the homeless. In a way Skid Row was still an extension of Kevin’s home, because he didn’t forget about their needs and worked tirelessly EVERY DAY to support and meet the needs of the homeless. I am grateful to be in a position where I can give my time and share these experiences with my son so that we can create a compassionate world where we care about and help each other.”
Mike, who is a current benefactor of the Salesian mission in Los Angeles and who is his second time as a Salesian volunteer helping the homeless (his first time was in Venice Beach), shared with us that “I had definitely felt there was more danger to the area and engaging with the homeless there (Skid Row). In both these trips, the level of gratitude and friendliness of the people there was amazing and rewarding on a personal level. I learned that giving back and having an impact was a simpler act than I had thought. Even if the impact isn’t large, it’s still something that lifts others up – others that can use and sometimes need these little acts of kindness to keep them going day-to-day ”.
Diana, who is currently part of the Mission Animation Team of this Province, shares her experience with us: “When Tamara said we would walk in the streets of Skid Row to deliver the food donations, I did feel a bit nervous. From what I had seen portrayed in the media, Skid Row seemed overwhelming with the number of people and crime. However, my nervousness went away once I saw the enthusiasm of our team as we set up the clothes donation tables and strategized our method for passing out the food donations.
As we dispersed the food donations on the streets of Skid Row, I noticed how thankful and polite everyone was. I was also surprised to see the number of other volunteers helping out in the area. Groups were giving out pizza, water, and others had tents offering assistance around the area. I felt thankful that people were taking care of our underserved communities here in Los Angeles.
It is important to identify with the people we are serving and to hear their voices. For example, a lady on Skid Row began talking to us, and when we asked her what kind of donation items her community would like, she listed items such as toiletries, baby wipes, and non-perishable foods. She also wondered if it was possible to come during the week since most volunteers visit on the weekends, leaving them to fend for themselves during the week. By asking those living in Skid Row what they need, we can find donations that will benefit them the most or, in the future, possibly organize a donation distribution during the week. Adjusting to the needs and changes of Skid Row will allow us to make a significant impact on this community ”.
We invite you to be part of the change on Saturday, October 30. We need: Volunteers, Travel-Size Toiletries, Non-Perishable foods .. For more information write to Lchacon@salesianclubs-la.org