Underemployed angel

Amber Lynn Dobson

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

It’s not very often you hear someone described as an angel, but several people have used that word to describe Amber Lynn Dobson. She volunteers her time and skill to help feed the city’s destitute. Her devotion seems doubly noteworthy because—even as she heads up an informal group of volunteers, We Care—she’s without a job herself. To help out with food or time, call her at 303-3149. She and the group can also be found on Facebook.

How did you come to be feeding homeless people at Tent City?

When I moved here last January, I told my son—because I’m unemployed—I was going to do some voluntary work. My parents were big on doing voluntary work when we were growing up, and they always said it was the local mission. So I told my son when we came here, “What we can do is go down and volunteer at the Mission.” On Facebook, Oliver Ex had done a little spiel on Spread Peace Reno and the restaurant with a little tag talking about how they were out helping the homeless and at some point they were going to partner with the Mission as far as helping to feed the homeless. Well, I’m going down and see what they’re doing. I met Pastor Ron [Sapp] at the warehouse. I don’t think I met Chris and Tysha [Tinney] for about a week, maybe even longer, afterward, but my son and I would just go down and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And they would distribute them. And then Pastor Ron said, “Why don’t you come down to Tent City?” And I said, “What is Tent City?” He said, “If you go down, you’re going to find there, you’re going to find that all these homeless people live down there.” So my son and I went down, and we were shocked. I’m sure there are places like that everywhere, but I had never been exposed to that. The most I had been exposed to homeless was working with the mission when I was a kid, and working at Palo Alto, there were a lot of veterans that hung out downtown. I managed a Z Gallery, which is a home furnishings store. And I used to go down and give them things throughout the week. That’s kind of my background; I started with Spread Peace, actually.

Then you kind of moved into a leadership role, right?

I was going out as many nights as I could feasibly go out to help with Spread Peace Reno. And when the restaurant opened, my son went to work at the restaurant, so he wasn’t out there volunteering. And Chris and Tysha and everybody kind of dumped Tent City, Chris came to me and asked if I could be what they called a “street leader” or “team leader” a couple nights a week. I said, “Well, I’m out here four nights a week, anyway, so I’ll commit to Sunday through Wednesday.” What that entailed was I was responsible for coming up with the side dish to go with the Mission’s entrée. I’d organize drinks and paper plates and that kind of thing. The majority of that came through Riki Heim, who was another street team leader. She contributed $500 a month to purchasing all the plates and forks and things that we needed in that respect. So I picked up those four nights. When Chris and Tysha and Pastor Ron had the split, I originally, listening to Chris, thought that Pastor Ron had been taking the wrong meds or something. When I looked into what was going on, I realized that that wasn’t the case, that Pastor Ron was right. And Chris was just full of crap. I didn’t care what was going on, at that point, my commitment was to go down and feed the homeless no matter what happened with Spread Peace Reno. And as things got worse and worse I just kept doing it on my own. And luckily, people started coming out who had nothing to do with Spread Peace Reno, who just wanted to volunteer. And before I knew it, I had a group of people who were showing up on a regular basis who were willing to be there no matter what happened. When the Mission bailed, we just picked up and ran with it. We switched nights, we’re now doing Monday through Thursday because there’s another group on Sunday, and between the two of it, it was just overkill. And I thought I’d rather pick up a night when there wasn’t anyone there. So I’ve been doing this, with our without Spread Peace Reno, since about April.

And when did you start calling your group … what is it? “We Care”?

[Laughs] Keep it simple.

So what are your goals for We Care? Just keep it going?

As long as we can do it. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing all this in my small kitchen, which is about 7 feet by 11 feet. At some point, I’d like to have access to a commercial kitchen that I can work out of. I volunteered with the Mission at the same time as I was working with Spread Peace, up until about two months ago. I went there and helped them make the meals we were taking to Tent City every night. I’d go in at 7 o’clock in the morning and chop carrots and contribute in any way I could. I’m reasonably used to working with a [large] quantity of food. It just gets to be a little bit of a pinch sometimes trying to juggle all that in my kitchen. I’m hoping that just somehow a commercial kitchen will show up in my life. And that people will continue to volunteer, and people will continue to contribute. I spend some of my own money, maybe $10 a night, in preparing the food, but everything else comes from all over. Hands of Hope has helped me out on Saturdays when things are left over, they’ll give them to me. Pastor Rick [Broo] who comes out and volunteers for us is able to get bread for us. So with the people who donate and the people who come out and volunteer, we’re able to do it. Tonight, we probably fed, I would say, at least 250 people.

You’re kidding me. It’s obviously more than just the people who are at Tent City.

There’s only about 10 of those people, about 10 tents out there now. The majority of them has found permanent housing or is in the motels. So I’m feeding people from all over. People can drive up in their car and get out, and come have a meal and get back in their car and leave.


From what I understand, the majority of them are either still living on the street someplace or they’re the working poor, and they can’t afford to cook a meal for themselves. The way I look at it, I’d rather people have a place to live and the electricity left on. If they need to come eat something, they come eat something. I even see people from around town that I don’t recognize, and I’ll say, “Do you know where Tent City and the stadium is,” and I’ll say, “Come at like 5 o’clock and we’ll feed you.” So that’s sort of what I do.

So, what can people do to help?

If people want to come out and join us, I don’t even care if they bring a dish. I’ve never asked people to donate because what comes from people’s hearts [is enough], and we have people who sometimes just show up with bananas or bottled water. Anything is better than nothing. If people want to donate food, we’ll gladly take it. Even some of the homeless people, what they do is they’ll get their boxes from St. Vincent’s, and what they used to do is they’d throw it in the trash bin because they can’t use beans or rice or the majority of things that they get—canned food, how are they going to cook it? They’ll bring it to me, and I can cook it. I had one guy bring me about 20 bags of lima beans over I don’t know how long a time, but he knew that if he didn’t give them to me, he was just going to throw them away. I tell them, “If you bring me something that you can’t use, I’ll cook it. I’ll save up 10 or 12 cans of green beans until I have enough to bring them down there for everybody. I think the beauty of what I’m doing—and I know that Chris quote/unquote “started this,” but I don’t think that he did, I think people have been doing this for a long time; he was just really good about putting a name on it, labeling it, and getting it promoted through Facebook. What I would like people to understand is you don’t have to belong to a group. We are a group, but we’re not a nonprofit—I don’t want that responsibility. It’s just amazing what five or six people who really want to do something can do if they put their minds to it. That’s what I see within our group. We have people from every different kind of religious background and different jobs and classes and what have you, but one thing we have in common is we care and we want to help people.

Is there a number people can use or should people just contact you through Facebook?

My phone number is (775) 303-3149. We’re going to be at the event tomorrow (Project Homeless Connect), and we’re planning a similar event for August. It’s just something we’re going to try to get people involved in by talking about it tomorrow. I just started going to the Homeless Coalition meetings these last two months, and those will be some of the people who will be there tomorrow. That we hope will come to our event in August. So that’s something to look forward to. We’re hoping in August we can get the District Attorney’s office more involved signing off on people’s tickets and things that they have. And we’re going to be doing haircuts and a bunch of different things.

Are you looking for work? What do you do?

I am looking for work. I was an interior designer for 15 years. I came here because there was a contractor who told me there was work.

Two years ago there was.

Exactly, but that’s all over. There’s little jobs out there, but there’s nothing that’s something you can support yourself on. So I joined JOIN, and I’ve gone through their program, and hopefully, I’ll be retrained in something I can get a job in.