December 26, 2012

Loaves & Fishes makes a wet Christmas cheery for homeless

Hundreds of homeless people received a bit of cheer on what might have otherwise been a cold, wet and lonely Christmas.

Hundreds of homeless people received a bit of cheer on what might have otherwise been a cold, wet and lonely Christmas.

They were given a free Christmas Day dinner and a stocking with gifts at Loaves & Fishes, the homeless services center just north of downtown.

While nearby streets were mostly quiet Tuesday, the area around Loaves & Fishes was teeming with homeless people on their bikes and pushing their carts.

Sister Libby Fernandez, the nun who runs the charity, said Christmas can be one of the hardest times of the year for some homeless people. That's because they lack the family ties that many people cherish this time of year.

But many people at Loaves & Fishes were smiling as they received Christmas stockings or plates full of ham, turkey and stuffing.

Alfonza Johnson said the generosity he experienced at the center helped offset the pain of not being with family.

"Christmas is about family and sharing, and sadly I am not with my family," said Johnson, who is 54 and has been unemployed for six years. "To get a meal and some things I need is great."

Donna Taylor, who was eating from a plate stacked high with food, said she felt the same way.

"It's Christmas, so I wanted to be down here around people," she said. "Everyone is in a good mood. It's a happy day. It's Christmas."

The center put together 2,000 stockings with donated goods. The stockings contained mostly practical items such as a hat, gloves and toiletries, along with one gift – a stuffed animal for kids and playing cards for adults.

The charity received more than enough donated food to serve the expected 800 people on Christmas, Fernandez said.

"You ask for a pie and you get 10 in return," she said. "It's a miracle."

Congressman-elect Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, was serving food at the center along with his daughter, Sydra, 15. Bera used to volunteer at the Loaves & Fishes medical clinic when he was Sacramento County's medical director several years ago.

Seeing the homeless on Christmas will help him when he takes office next month, he said.

"People are really struggling out there," he said. "It's a reminder of what we need to do."

Bera said homelessness is a broad issue, but he thinks lowering unemployment rates in California is one of the most important steps to reduce the number of people on the streets.

Other volunteers sought to help in other ways.

Frances Taylor, a retired psychiatric nurse, handed out stockings to people leaving the dining hall.

"Everyone is very grateful," she said. "It's the spirit of Christmas."

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