A Passion for Giving Back
Apart from being “tile crazy”, the 41-year-old, mother of two, and native of Reno also has a passion for giving back. She’s part of the 39 North Downtown nonprofit to help revitalize Sparks where her business Loka Tile is based, while also managing the all-volunteer Loka Cares initiatives, which recently had a Halloween costume drive for foster families.
“I don't like to take in money. What I like to take in is nonperishable foods, a big bags of couscous or brown rice, healthy stuff like that, or quinoa as a staple. We take in plates and forks because that's what we use the most of. We collect tables, so I don't really like taking money. I'd rather take those things because then the person that's donating knows exactly where it's going to,” she said of also organizing food events.
She said she felt compelled to help even more when she thought one of her children acted spoiled.
“My son at the time was seven, almost eight years old and he was going through how normal kids are with picky eating, not being appreciative,” she remembers. “So we found a place down at tent city. It was a different group that was doing it and we started helping them because it instantly kind of opened his eyes a little bit.”
After a while, she decided to organize her own feeding event. “We just decided to take over every Friday and we instantly just came up with a quick name because they wanted a name, an organization name to put down so they knew who was coming. So we just came up with Loka Cares and then that was almost nine years ago.”
Leading a Team of Volunteers Rain or Shine
Fridays, in the parking lot of 4th and Record street, at around 5 pm, Handler leads a team of rotating volunteers, church groups and businesses chipping in, with an emphasis on healthy food.
Volunteers, including kids, are welcome to bring a dish or just help serve. Supplies which are most needed include disposable plates, bowls, cups, silverware, napkins, organic canned food and pastas, rice, bottled water and toiletries.
“We're serving outside, rain or shine,” she says. “It's in the trenches, it's grassroots and it's good for kids to see. So when kids do come, I like to put them at the head of the line and have them hand the plates and forks, make that eye contact, make that relationship with people, learn the different signs of intoxication or disability or just that different level of, you know, compassion and communication you have to have with people.”
Early in the month, she says up to 200 people are served, while at the end of the month the number can go up to 400.
She says it seems the affordable housing crisis is having an unfortunate impact. “I've been seeing an increase in the population down there, that's for sure. More families unfortunately are down there due to displacements. With jobs, there's so many jobs right now, there's just not the resources to get people to and from these jobs or to even know about these jobs that are available.”
A Doer Also Working for Sparks and for People Beyond Feedings
Handler is also busy with 39 North Downtown Sparks, but she seems to have no shortage of energy and ideas to make her community better, all the while having fun with it.
“There's some hidden gems in Sparks,” she said. “It just needs a little bit of help, a little bit of something. There wasn't any public art really. There was a lack of vibrancy in Sparks. So we decided to create a group to kind of help with that. And it quickly became a big thing because they all were wanting a non-biased group to come in and kind of help everybody, get everybody excited, put on some free community events, bring public art down there, highlight some of the local businesses which we do.”
She only took one class in college as she wanted to plunge into doing not learning. “I actually took half a semester of psychology, but that was just probably for my own purposes. I think when I was young, I would have two to three jobs. I just like to work. So I quickly got into this and then it became a career.”
Loka Cares also knows no bounds in terms of events, or types of help it gets involved in, from the very small but still crucial to very important life changes. “Basically, we definitely like to help with people getting into apartments and having the proper tools to, to live and not get discouraged and we also do care packs. So we have a lot of high school students that will come because we collect bins of toiletries so they'll come out and repackage those so we can give people care packages to keep in their cars or we'll pass them out.”
No to New Taxes, But Yes to More Services
Handler is proud in being efficient and getting lots done and lots of people connected to work together to help others.
She says it makes her sad when people are condescending or hyper critical of people she helps, saying they don’t know what their situation is.
She’s against a tax on businesses to help the homeless as was recently passed in San Francisco, but would favor more services, such as a mobile unit going to different parts of town.
“I would like to see a mobile unit that gives showers and basic haircut needs and hygiene products, all in one. Giving some people a chance to feel fresh and clean again, and maybe they have an interview the next day, or that day...The mobile unit can come out and help in that situation, give them clean clothes, suit rentals. That would be awesome,” she said as we concluded our interview.
Reporting by Prince Nesta with Photography by Jordan Blevins for Our Town Reno