Sunday, January 25, 2009

Young people helping homeless (unpublished story)

Mike Lata

(Submitted to Chico News & Review and they didn't want to publish it due to the controversial nature of the article -- Chico has a large homeless population)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Time

A group of young Chico residents decided to lend a helping hand to the homeless by distributing food and clothes in the downtown plaza.

They can be seen some weekend afternoons interacting with the homeless population in Chico. They are in some ways creating a link between the College or young crowd the town is full of and the many homeless that live here.

A man of medium built with dark raggedy hair with a backpack on is looking over a stack of clothing while others are sitting on the steps above with a container full of small waters.

A line of people gathers and instead of pushing each other and trying to get to the food first they act like civilized people by waiting for their turn, and sharing some of the food together.

On the other hand it is also evident some of them come back for more food man times without asking, and a piece of hamburger meet is also lying in one of the bathrooms.

The homeless population in Chico like others has positive and negative aspect. There are people trying to use such an opportunity for change or to feed themselves while being interact with non-homeless people, while others may use it as something they feel privileged to or to take advantage of.

The group of young friends who distribute the food and other items call this activity "Peanut Butter and Jelly Time" because they originally started off just giving out sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly, said Brendan Finn, civil engineering Chico State major.

The group soon decided to get more options and variety of food available to distribute in the plaza, Finn said. They brought a barbeque to downtown and started cooking food up which they found people there liked. They also have been bringing in drinks and sometimes clothes to give out.

They started a little over a year ago and have been helping the homeless on and off since than. However, due to work and school schedules, only since about a month and a half the group of friends got organized per every other week basis and started the event again.

It is hard for some people to spend the time involved in cooking, cleaning and taking things down but they try to do it whenever they can, Finn said. Finn and his friends do not feel any obligation to have to show up though as it is just something they choose to do out of their own free will

Getting to know the community with active involvement was one of the driving factors that motivated Finn and his friends.

"It was meant at first for everyone and meant to have music and games but it was mostly the homeless community who took advantage," Finn said.

What deterred many other members of the community from getting involved was the homeless population that showed up in bulk who got in line for the food, he said.

Despite not getting the entire community of Chico involved, Finn, along with friends, met many people they now consider friends.

"The cool thing about it is we got to make a lot of cool friends through this who were homeless," he said. "They were real cool people who happened to be homeless and they had a lot of needs."

They get donations from community members and people that are encouraged by what they do but mostly they bring the stuff themselves to hand out in the plaza.

"It is really cool that people have the will to donate out of their own pocket," Finn said.

"We want people to be open and just share our lives together," he said.

Kacie McLeod, a Butte College student, is another member of friends who became involved in Peanut Butter and Jelly Time.

To get people involved at the beginning flyers were passed out as well as signs for the event put up around town, she said.

The group provides various meals depending on their funds and what would work best at the time. Once in awhile they even provided pizza, and another time it was soup.

"Some days we didn’t want to cook so we got pizzas," McLeod said. "One time we got 27 pizzas."

There was a day in the hot summer heat where they brought ice cream and popsicles as well, she said.

Sometimes weather conditions would get extreme like rain would start pouring down but they still tried to show up.

"Even when it was winter we still tried to go out because there would still be people who were hungry and cold," McLeod said.

Working with the community, getting involved, and sharing what they have are among the benefits or motivation for this group of friends.

"When I found out how many people who were really hungry and looked forward to Saturday I found out how much it means to people," McLeod said.

The negative for McLeod was the mess it would sometimes make and police involvement that unfortunately resulted because of this.

"They tried to kick us out,” she said. “We knew this was a good and right thing and found a way to do it and were able to do it when they wanted to shut us down."

The person who originally came up with the idea of Peanut Butter and Jelly Time was their friend Maxx Cliston, McLeod said.

What inspired Maxx Cliston, a Butte College student, was a book called The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, he said.

It is a book that deals with Christianity and aspects of population like the homeless.

Crime prevention officer Tim Truby thinks active participation is not always the best solution in helping homeless people.

"Giving food is not a long term fix,” he said. “We prefer them to get long term help."

Truby recommends for people to direct them to services that specialize in this.

"People want to have a one solution to all," he said. “But there are different groups that need a different approach."

There are people who ask for money as a way of living and take food away from the people who really need it, Truby said. Panhandling is their job or what they prefer doing to make money.

Finn acknowledged that there are setbacks and negative aspects of doing this but in his mind the positives and the ability to reach out and communicate with such a population makes it still worthwhile.

He admits the negatives of doing this are for example some people who can support themselves but show up just to get a free meal -- not being part of the community involved there but use it for their own advantage.

"We want people to be open and just share our lives together," he said.

Despite the differences in opinion regarding active participation with the community of homeless in Chico, the group of friends plan to continue distributing items and helping out in ways they can.

This is just one group in Chico who gives out a helping hand and tries to get the community involved, and there is possibility of the group of friends might try something bigger.

"There are other church organizations that have the same heart and want to give food and service to people, and they want to join us by working together to make the community better," Finn said. "But for now unless god provides something bigger we are just going out there with the same intent as always."

So far the group is enjoying what they are doing and many of the homeless show gratitude when they see them around town.

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