A Living Charter for Help
From asking for a skillet to emergency rental needs, the Compassionate Neighbors of Northern Nevada Facebook page has become a post-it, listening and direct caring board for some of those struggling in our community and local heroes lending a hand.
The group, which has over 200 members and counting, has a living charter, emphasizing safety and banning harassment or judgment.
“We are active in the community and we were also noticing on Facebook there were a number of groups out there purporting to be there to help people in need. What we were also noticing was a lot of judgment. So people would come to those groups and say I'm in need and they would be getting lectured instead of helped and it was troubling to us… So it actually kind of came out of anger. There was one particular post that was troubling to me and so I said, you know what, I'm just going to start my own group. And so we started Compassionate Neighbors of Northern Nevada,” Russell said.
From Babysitting to Home Cooked Meals
The group’s headquarter where the free pantry is located is at Russell’s home. The 40-year-old single mother does planning and logistics for a protein bar company and calls this her “passion project.”
She says people have asked for babysitting while they need to go to an important appointment, or sometimes food for emergency situations.
“There was one young woman who lives in a weekly with her baby and she was saying my kids never had a home cooked meal. And I said, ‘well, I'll just cook you a home cooked meal’,” Russell said. “Just any little thing that we can do. The main thing is about pooling all of our resources, and rather than, you know, if I have some extra clothes taking it to the Salvation Army so that then they can turn around and sell it, I can just give it directly to the person who needs it. I feel everyone should care, especially now when we're just one disaster away from being homeless . It wouldn't take much. I'm very lucky in that I have this house and I have this job where I can work from home and that allows me some time, that I can do stuff like this … If it wasn't for a few amazing people in my life, I'd be living by the river right now,” she said.
In Support of Growth rather than Gentrification
In general, Russell would like to see more low income housing in this area, and more growth for those already living here, rather than gentrification which she views as efforts to bring new, wealthier people in.
She says the “downtown homeless issue” as it’s called by many is not being described through the right lens, and that much more could be done with what we already have. “Homeless people are people, you know,” Russell said. “They are often talked about as if they are not a sentient being, that they're a problem, that they need to be moved out of the way. The problem is our community that hasn't given them a home, not the people who don't have the home. I think there's a lot that can be done. There's a lot of wealth, not just financial wealth, but skills and knowledge and understanding in this community that could be shared better,” she said.
On a day to day, moment to moment level, outside of social media, she would like people to also be more compassionate.
“As far as the people of community, I would encourage them to recognize the humanity in everyone. If you see someone on the street who you think is homeless or someone you see asking for help, say hello and smile even if you don't have anything to give, even if you don't feel like giving, just acknowledge them, you know… it's a scary and lonely place to be. Remember that they're a human being and just say hello and maybe you'll make a friend.”