Hats for the Homeless

Rancho Cordova, CA  |  By Margaret Snider
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Elder Barrows, center and Elder Dunyon offer hats to a homeless woman during the recent storm as City of Rancho Cordova senior code enforcement officer looks on with a smile. Photo by Gary McFadyen

RANCHO CORDOVA, CA (MPG) - A storm with heavy rain and wind had just passed through Rancho Cordova the night before. Married couple Eric and Cathi Niven, with six young women and 10 young men, all missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all wearing Santa hats, made their way through the puddles near Folsom Boulevard. They came bearing bags of knitted and handmade hats, scarves, quilts and blankets for the homeless. City of Rancho Cordova Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) members Kerry Simpson and Russ Ducharme worked with the group as liaison between the missionaries and the homeless.

Eric and Cathi Niven are from Monticello, Utah. Cathi Niven told Monticello resident Jeri Burt how much she would like to help the homeless in the Sacramento area. Before long over 200 items had been made and shipped to Sacramento. “(Cathi) called me and asked me if I could make some scarves and stuff,” said Jeri Burt. “Of course I already had a jump start on it.”  Burt makes a practice of forming groups to crochet hats and scarves for those in need, and many from Monticello and La Sal, Utah, were excited to be part of it. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like you can do near enough, but just touching one person at a time is just a huge blessing,” Burt said.

Simpson said that homeless people are not spending their days looking for work or finding a way to get income. “They’re thinking about how they’re going to feed themselves, where are they going to sleep?” Simpson said. “When they’re out in the elements, where are they going to get that warm coat when the weather changes?” 

William Hawkins, 68, accepted a hat. He used to be a maintenance man and worked for general contractors. He was a character actor and backstage tech in Broadway shows. Then he had two heart attacks and heart failure, lost his place and has been homeless for two years. He’s seen a lot of suffering, and gone through it himself. “I’m not saying things I’m thinking about, I’m saying things I know,” Hawkins said. “Because what I think isn’t worth a dime, it’s what I know that counts.”  Hawkins was glad to see the young people helping others, and said it shows how things are improving. “These young people are (helping), Hawkins said. “You go to get on the light rail, they want to help you, they hold doors for you, they’re more than happy to.” 

Cathi Niven took a picture of Hawkins and another man receiving hats. “We sent (the picture) immediately to the lady who had actually done the knitting, and she was excited to see that,” Cathi Niven said. The missionaries timed the distribution to coincide with the first day of the annual Latter-day Saint global initiative called Light the World. Thousands participate in individual and group service from December 1 to 29. (see www.lighttheworld.org).

The City of Rancho Cordova Homeless Outreach Team includes Simpson, who coordinates, two Rancho Cordova police officers, Ducharme as senior code enforcement officer for the City and two individuals for cleanup. A homeless navigator travels the City helping the homeless obtain IDs, driver’s licenses, social security cards, whatever is needed. “Team members’ positions overlap,” said Rancho Cordova communications officer, Ashley Downton, “with the core purpose to build relationships with homeless individuals and families, and provide services, education, and resources in partnership with local organizations, to help them become self-sufficient.” 

While the missionaries were finding people who needed the hats and quilts, Rancho Cordova resident Jennifer Barnes came by, who used to be homeless herself. Now with a job and a place to stay, she doesn’t forget those among whom she lived. Daily she comes out to check on people she knows, to bring them something or just see how they are getting along. “It’s really hard,” Barnes said. “You have a choice to either rise above it or get stuck. There are some people who get stuck.”  The missionaries gave Barnes a pile of the homemade items on December 1 to distribute to people she sees, and Ducharme spoke with her about helping the City to make contact with people who need help.

“It’s a collaborative effort between many people in the community,” Downton said. “Together we can make a difference and help change peoples’ lives.” 

This can happen by connecting not only with people in our community, but also joining the efforts of people in Monticello, Utah, with others in Rancho Cordova, California.