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Feeding a Need at Loaves & Fishes

The Sacramento River swallows the American River whole – right near the Loaves & Fishes charity.

Up to something good

It was a cold, windy, rainy Saturday morning when Sarah Trost arrived at Loaves and Fishes, a private charity that has been feeding and sheltering Sacramento’s poorest citizens since 1983.

“I didn’t really want to go,” said Trost, the Asurea Roseville receptionist. But it was January 23, 2016 and her new year’s resolution to do more good deeds on behalf of others was still fresh. Feeding the homeless on one of two weekends in January that Asurea Roseville signed up for was the perfect good deed. “I think everyone should volunteer,” she said.

At Asurea Roseville, giving back is the norm. From fighting cancer and building playgrounds to empowering women and protecting families, we’re usually up to something good. So, volunteering at Loaves and Fishes was right up our alley.

Braving the cold

Located just north of downtown Sacramento in the Dos Rios Triangle district, the private charity is flanked by public storage units, restaurant supply warehouses and a water treatment plant. Just blocks away, the Sacramento River swallows the American River whole.

The rivers are probably to blame for the bitter cold that greets Sarah and her Asurea Roseville coworkers — Becky Hare, the Director of Operations; Christine Rever, the Director of Administration and Vicky Saavedra, a New Business Assistant — when they arrive at 7 a.m..

But the team warmed up quickly by preparing mountains of food for the day’s lunch offering in the charity’s industrial-sized kitchen.

“We diced 200 onions, chopped tons of bell peppers and shredded tons of lettuce,” said Trost, a recent Employee-of-the-Month honoree. “We cooked all the meat and opened tons of cans. And then we made” a tamale pie.

To put it another way, our Asurea Roseville team, along with other volunteer groups, made enough tamale pie to feed hundreds of people. Thanks to a steady flow of volunteers and food donations, Loaves and Fishes fills hundreds of bellies 364 days a year.

“Our volunteers are the backbone of Loaves and Fishes,” said Sister Libby Fernandez, Executive Director of the charity. “We have over 1,000 volunteers each month. They become part of our miracle where Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed 5,000!”

On this day, about 300 men, women and children lined up for a warm meal and what would likely be the highlight of their day.

Seeing so many homeless people eating in the dining room inspired Christine Rever to seek a recurring volunteer day for Asurea Roseville employees. “Once a month would be ideal,” she said, adding that Asurea Roseville will soon begin collecting much-needed can openers, forks, spatulas and other items for the kitchen and dining hall.

“We’re also going to be collecting sleeping bags, tents and things like sanitary napkins for women,” said Rever.

Soup-kitchen soldiers

asurea-loaves-and-fishesYou can usually find Sheri Guerra in her corner office at Asurea Roseville, dashing off urgent emails while talking on the phone. Plastered to the wall above her desk is a colossal map of the Western United States.

As Asurea’s Medicare Sales Director, Guerra’s phone calls and emails often reach colleagues in distant time zones. Still, it’s not uncommon for her to focus her energies closer to home, especially when it means helping locals in need.

“A lot of the homeless population are not treated well by the general public,” said Guerra, a veteran volunteer of Loaves and Fishes. She knows the drill well enough to keep guests and volunteers on track during the whole operation. Even her teenaged son and daughter, who joined Asurea Roseville this time around, are repeat volunteers. “People assume that if you’re homeless, you must be on drugs,” she continued.

Guerra, along with Talent Acquisition Specialists Alyvia Campagna and Ashley Briggs, volunteered at the charity a week before Trost’s group did. But Campagna and Briggs were completely new to this.

Making (eye) contact

On any given Sunday, Alyvia Campagna would be spending time at home with her 2-year-old son. But on Sunday, January 17, 2016, she spent her time serving homeless men, women and children at Loaves and Fishes.

“People drive by and throw trash at them, so it was nice that they had a sanctuary,” said Campagna of the families she served. “We were told to make eye contact with them and encouraged to interact. You could tell they weren’t used to being spoken to kindly.”

For Ashley Briggs, helping out in the community is something she had been wanting to do for quite some time. She got her chance on that chilly Sunday morning, driving from her home in Folsom to volunteer alongside Guerra and Campagna.

“We wrapped silverware and folded plastic doggie bags — like, tons of them,” shared Briggs. “When people raised their hand, we’d take them extra napkins. It was nice interacting with them.”

One simple interaction really stuck out for Trost: “I shook a guy’s hand, asked him his name and he just lit up,” she said. “You can tell that so many of them are treated like they’re invisible. It was a very humbling experience and extremely rewarding.”

Perhaps it’s Guerra who best sums up why giving back is so central to Asurea Roseville’s mission.

“I’ve dedicated my life to helping a very vulnerable population: seniors ages 65 and up and people under 65 who are disabled,” she said.

“It’s all about helping those in need.”

Stop and give back

As long as you’re living your busy life, day to day, you’re not as likely to stop and give back. It takes effort (and sometimes passion) to take time from your day to make someone else’s a little brighter. Are you ready to stop and give back? Here are a few national organizations and resources that you can start contributing to today: