Bleeding-heart conservatives

Jeri Lardy

Photo By Larry Dalton

Homelessness and runaway government spending are subjects people love to talk about. But Jeri Lardy and her husband, Gary , have done more than talk. They stepped in earlier this summer, along with many other generous souls, to help keep Loaves and Fishes open just when it looked like the center for homeless services would close its doors for part of the summer. The Lardys—both successful business people living in El Dorado Hills—give 10 percent to 20 percent of their income every year to causes they deem worthy. It’s more than altruism. They believe charitable giving can help get the government off our backs.

Why did you step in to help Loaves and Fishes this year?

Their total contributions for the year were down 30 percent. They had two of their worst months for receiving donations in their history. The board was probably going to decide to close for one week a month in the months of August, September and October. We called and spoke to [Loaves and Fishes director] Tim Brown and asked how much it would take to stay open. He told us, and so we made an initial donation of $40,000, and we’ll be following that up with additional money so they do not need to close. [Brown] knows he just needs to call us and tell us what he needs.

So, you’ll be giving another $40,000?

We’re expecting that it could go up to $100,000 or so. We hope it doesn’t go that high, so that we can give to some other charities this year, too.

We give 10 percent to 20 percent of our income every year. We were able to do that because, thankfully, we’ve been successful. We have an online insurance service that my husband was starting when I met him seven years ago. It has certainly improved our lives, but most significantly, it has put us in a position to give generously to charities. We don’t live outlandish lifestyles or anything. We don’t want to, because we want to be able to give money in significant amounts that will make a change.

This sounds like the tithing traditions you find in some religious faiths. Are you very religious people?

No. We don’t even go to church. We’re just heathens, throwing our money away! [Laughing] Actually, we’ve tried a few churches; we just found that most of the churches we went to were really interested in raising money to build a bigger church and get more members. That’s not where we felt our money would be best spent. We felt that other things were more necessary.

Why Loaves and Fishes? Why not the arts or something?

Education is really important to my husband. And he has helped set up several scholarships, for example. Homelessness became an issue for me when I lived in San Francisco. I ran a restaurant. I lived out in the Marina, and I would ride a bus into town every day to work. Between Union Square, where I got off, and the three blocks to the restaurant that I ran, I would pass 15 or 20 homeless people.

The restaurant owners were adamant that I never allow these people to come in and use the bathrooms. But I couldn’t say no to them. I thought about what it would be like if I was out there, and everybody turned me away, and I couldn’t even use the bathroom. That would be the last straw. I couldn’t imagine being in a worse situation.

You’re not some sort of bleeding-heart liberals are you?

We’re staunch, happy Republicans. One of the things we particularly like about Loaves and Fishes is that they take no government money. We feel really strongly about this. We don’t want to be taxed any more than we are—I don’t think you can be taxed any more than we are—to support programs that we don’t believe in or that we think are excessive. We think that, on the whole, society could support the charities in a private way and make our taxes less.

Living out in the foothills, wouldn’t it be easier to ignore the homeless people downtown?

Every night when I’m putting my children to bed, I’m extremely grateful that I’m putting them in a bed and that they are safe in their house. There are children in this community sleeping in cars. There are children sleeping at the river.

I think it would be wonderful if there was no one in Sacramento who had to choose between eating and putting a diaper on their child. But there are people out there every day who have to make that decision.

I just want to be a part of fixing that.