“Rub a dub dub. Thanks for the grub. Yea, God!” Kim Harrison from the Neighborhood Church in Santa Clara leads a circle of about 20 volunteers and homeless who have gathered in Central Park in a short blessing. Then the volunteers break away to dish up a home-cooked lunch for all.
It’s a sunny Thursday morning, and about a dozen or so homeless men and women have dropped by Central Park for the weekly fellowship and food with the church volunteers. Some are greeted with hugs before being served today’s lunch of beef stroganoff on noodles, salad, rolls, yogurt, and bananas. The next week, it’s breakfast burritos freshly made on a portable grill.
“It’s something we look forward to—like a family reunion,” says 50-year-old Paul, a graduate of Buchser High School and West Valley College who has been homeless for 17 years.
“We come for love and friendship and caring people who understand the fact that we’re not low-lifes. The church people try to help you get it together. They do the best they can with what they’ve got.”
“Scripture says we’ll always have the poor with us, and the Holy Spirit put compassion for them in my heart,” says Harrison, who is the Neighborhood Church’s Nineveh Outreach director. “These are not bums. There are a lot of hungry people here in America who have lost jobs, homes, lost everything.”
Neighborhood Church member Sherry Miller alternates with Harrison in providing the Central Park lunch. In addition, the church (408-241-5365; www.nchurchsc.com) holds a weekly dinner at the church and distributes food and clothing to low-income Santa Clarans on Mondays, 10 a.m. to noon. The 250 to 300-member church has fed more than 4,400 people since March 2011 when it affiliated with the faith-based Nineveh Outreach in Modesto (http://ctwc.com/ministries/nineveh/).
“I know how it feels to be homeless because I’ve been there before,” says Adrian Carradine, one of about twenty-five church volunteers. “I know how it feels not to have a roof over your head, no food, and no clothes.” Carradine credits a drug program with enabling her to “get clean” and back on her feet after a year of homelessness.
“[On the streets,] your hope gets destroyed. Our society doesn’t realize how demeaning and devastating that can be. There’s no quality of life. It’s just survival,” says Harrison. “That’s why we’re here. To bring some hope.”
“Anything you can do to help people is a blessing to you, too,” says James Rickard, a 30-year member of the church.
“Can we help everyone?” Harrison asks. “No. But it’s like Mother Teresa said: ‘You minister to one person at a time.'” The Neighborhood Church’s new hope is to find the money to buy, equip, and staff a medical van.
On a different Thursday morning in Central Park, it is raining, and only a handful of homeless show up for a quick lunch. Paul and “Don Juan” are among them.
Fifty-six-year-old Don Juan, a Wilcox High School graduate who has been homeless about a year, doesn’t understand how the city can get the money to build a football stadium but not a homeless shelter.
“Sunnyvale and San Jose have shelters but not Santa Clara,” he says.
“The only shelter we get is in jail,” says Paul before walking off alone through the park in the light rain. His heavy pack is on his back; his cane is in one hand. He is on a long path to nowhere in particular.