Youths collaborate – and inspire

Victoria, Alexandra and Franchesca Sanchez on their way to join

Christopher High School senior Lea Ready expressed the desire this Christmas to promote doing something actively positive on the streets of Gilroy by mounting an effort called “drive-by giving to the homeless.” She had first enjoyed participating in such an effort last Christmas and encouraged others to join in to participate this year.

In a truly collaborative effort on Christmas Eve, 12 young people from Morgan Hill and Gilroy schools took time out of their busy schedules to put others first by handing out Christmas care packages to the homeless in the parks of Gilroy.

Heather Brodersen, a Gilroy college student, helped coordinate the youths assembling care packages the day before, which included a team of Rainbow Girls made up of Jocylin Hollman, Jzade Tell, Latherian Harrison, and two adult leaders: Leona Reif, a volunteer at St. Louise Hospital, and Ginger Bassett, a parishioner from Salinas First United Methodist Church, who serves as a mentor known as “Mother Advisor” to the Gilroy Rainbow Girls, who participate in many volunteer projects to benefit those in need.

They filled the care packages with travel size shampoos, soaps, lotions, Kleenex, wash cloths, socks, gloves, warm handmade hats made by Joyce Hall of Gilroy and Alice Bechard of Turlock, and scarves made by Carmen Silva of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish. New Gilroy United Methodist church member Roger Blakeway made delicious fresh homemade jerky using meat donated by John Warner and dried using deceased Gilroy pioneer Annabel Kropff’s old fruit dehydrator which was donated by her daughter, retired teacher Kathryn Kellogg. Isabella, a neighbor who lives next to the Gilroy United Methodist Church parking lot, heard about the care packages being assembled at the church and donated more than 30 hand-knitted scarves to add to the effort. 

At Miller Park, a homeless man named Enrique wanted to shake the hand of each volunteer and hear what our names were. At the larger Las Animas Park, we fanned out searching for who might be in need. The youth learned to approach those who might be homeless with sensitivity, since some are not willing to be treated with what they see as pity and do not readily accept a Christmas gift. Alice Bechard was carrying several hats she had made, including just one child-sized yellow hat she had knitted. At first, it hadn’t seemed as if we would run across anyone who could use it, but she kept it in hand at each stop just in case. 

One couple who was living in their car spotted the care packages being handed out and came running over the hill to see if they too could receive one. It turned out that the couple had a baby and the hat was just perfect. 

When all those participating held hands after the distribution while Pastor Eric of Gilroy’s United Methodist Church prayed in the parking lot of Las Animas Park, the spirit of Christmas was keenly felt by all.

Alene Creager, who originated the idea and came down from San Jose to guide the outreach effort, said, “Thank you for inviting me to be a part of today. I am so moved by seeing the eyes of our younger generation opened. And I am also awed by being a part of seeing how the dignity of the homeless is restored just a bit by people treating them with humanity and coming to them and asking for permission to help.”

Iunisi Tovo, youth leader at a church in Palo Alto, called on Christmas Eve to thank the young people in Gilroy for their drive-by giving effort. 

“Our youth group heard about what yours was doing,” she said. “So we decided to try it. We went out last weekend and gave out care packages. The homeless were crying and hugging our youth. It was a great experience. Thank you for inspiring us!” 

Last Monday night at the National Guard temporary winter shelter for the homeless, eight Gilroy youth volunteering to serve dinner to the homeless were excited to see a homeless man named Joe wearing a bright yellow knitted hat they had given to him in the park during the drive-by.

“He’s wearing our hat!” Sacramento State student Alexandra Sanchez exclaimed, and all the young people took a closer look at Joe, seeing him as someone they now recognized as an individual rather than just another  homeless person in the park. 

“Thank you for inviting us,” Alexandra said as she was leaving the Armory after serving spaghetti, soup, pizza and salad to more than 100 homeless people. “I really liked serving. It was a lot of fun. Ches and Alex really enjoyed it too. They were actually saying the next time you do it they want to help.”