Time of need, indeed

About two weeks ago, word got out that local charity Loaves & Fishes was in danger of closing down some of the services it provides Sacramento’s homeless and indigent poor during certain weeks of the summer.

Donations to the charity—whose $3 million-plus annual operating budget depends on individual contributions from community members—simply were not coming in this year like they had in the past. In fact, contributions were down 30 percent. Loaves & Fishes staffers were shocked to find, five months into the year, that they were $400,000 behind where they were at the end of May last year. The charity already had eaten into its surplus; the only recourse was to slash services.

But after the media put out the information, the checks started rolling in.

“We’ve had a very heartening response,” said Tim Brown, executive director of the nonprofit organization. So far, hundreds of donations totaling $70,000 have poured into Loaves & Fishes in a mere few weeks. In addition, last Wednesday, one couple from El Dorado Hills heard of the charity’s need and pledged a surprising $40,000. “It’s overwhelming,” said Brown. “It reminds you of what a great community Sacramento is.”

But make no mistake. The charity is still hurting.

Brown said the organization may yet be forced to take drastic measures. It will maintain its daily hot-lunch service to the poor, but other key programs that may be shuttered for a week each month starting in September include: Maryhouse, which provides breakfast and sanctuary for women and their children who have suffered domestic violence; Mustard Seed, a school for homeless children; and Friendship Park, where up to 1,000 people gather every day to use restrooms, shower and make free local phone calls.

Loaves & Fishes, which has a national reputation for its model approach to serving the homeless, was founded in 1983 around the simple concept that the poor should be treated with respect and dignity. The charity’s complex of services, located just north of downtown Sacramento, is steeped in moral behavior but seems refreshingly absent of moral rhetoric. The organization refused government money so it could serve the poor as well as advocate for them by urging awareness of the causes and solutions to hunger and homelessness.

Such awareness clearly is needed. The number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million between 2000 and 2002 and now is at nearly 35 million people. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in December 2002 that homeless-shelter requests exceeded shelter availability by a daunting 30 percent.

The Loaves & Fishes board of directors meets July 21 to determine whether to abridge services and put staff on temporary furloughs during upcoming months. The board shouldn’t have to go there.

“We’re so grateful for what’s come in already,” said Brown, “but we’re still not out of the woods.”

Help us get them out. Mail your donation to Loaves & Fishes, P.O. Box 2161, Sacramento CA 95812. To volunteer or get more information, call (916) 446-0874.