Providing Food for Over a Year
Everything was going according to plan for Daniels until recent changes with downtown shelter operations.
Helping Hands with Open Hearts was founded about a year ago and received non-profit status on March 5th. The group has been getting regular donations from Rail City Casino in Sparks, Longboards Beach Fired Pizza on E Golden Valley road, Bangkok Cuisine in Midtown as well as individual donations. Daniels made sure she always provided home cooked meals.
“First off, it's more nutritional. [...] Would you have your mom's food or would you rather have McDonald's? I would rather have my mom's food. I would rather have a home cooked meal and not only that, it's made with love. We take care preparing our food. We put vegetables in there, we put our love, we put our hearts into this, our meals. So yeah, I would rather have a home cooked meal than anything else,” Daniels said.
Daniels got her system down, cooking 50 pounds of rice per month and making teriyaki beef bowls. In her front room, she has a refrigerator and two freezers that hold meat. She also has a room in her house dedicated to holding supplies like food, pots and pans for cooking and other daily necessities.
Several Sundays every month, Helping Hands with Open Hearts set up their tables up on 4th and Record Street near the entrance to the downtown shelter. Daniels says they also provided clothing, bundles of blankets and hygiene kits. She says they fed around 300 people on average since starting and during a recent feeding they helped the most people they’ve ever seen. But they’ve now been told, the feedings at that central, popular location must soon stop.
“Some people are not choosing to be homeless. You know, there was a lady out there with a six day old baby, there’s veterans out there, there's mentally ill that have just been thrown out on the streets that are out there and they're not choosing this. So yeah, everybody deserves a little bit of love in their belly, you know? So yeah, that's what it is. It's just a little bit of love from our hearts to theirs. And every time I go out there, I tell them, we love you. That's why we're here. They say, thank you. Yeah, no, God bless you. God blessed me. That's why I'm blessing you. You know? And once we're done feeding, we go out, we pray with them. You know, if you want some prayer, if you want some love, I hug them. You know, that's what it is. That's what it's about. Just bringing love into a dark spot.”
Now Barred from Feeding at the Shelter
After May 1st, feedings outside the Record Street shelter must cease, Daniels says, a Volunteers of America member told her. At first, she was told they couldn’t do feedings anymore because the group isn’t a certified kitchen and the meals’ origin are unknown. She was later told it was because the large crowd which gathers to receive food becomes aggressive after the feeding and people fight. But Daniels believes the need for food for those living on the streets outweighs the issues raised.
“I'm very upset. I'm pissed off,” she said. “I really am because no matter what people need to eat. [...] If you're hungry, you're going to do whatever you have to do to get food in your belly. So yeah, it made me mad because we're doing a service for people and [...] we just want to help people and they're cutting that off so we're not able to do that anymore.”
Daniels intends on continuing to feed people, but it will have to be outside the shelter compound. She says she’ll try set up on the sidewalk near the Record Street shelter, as long as she’s able to reach people, but that might not be allowed either.
When we asked staff at the Volunteers of America about these changes, they wrote back by email: “The feedings that take place at the City of Reno's CAC (Community Assistance Center) Campus are done through the City of Reno. I suggest you reach out to them, as I have no information on this.”
Personal Reasons for Helping Others in Need
Daniels knows what it’s like to live without shelter. Daniels lived in her car in L.A. when she was only 16. Other members from Helping Hands with Open Hearts were also homeless at one point.
“I fell down for two years. I was homeless,” Daniels said. “If you haven't [been homeless], you're lucky, but we're all one paycheck away from being homeless. If we lost a couple of paychecks, we would be out of this house. You never know. So yeah, when he [God] gave me this calling, it's just something to bring a light to where the dark is.”
Daniels said that she thinks it’s easier to be homeless in California than Reno because of the warmer weather there. However, Daniels is impressed by how the Reno community comes together to help one another. She said the places that donate are eager, willing to provide food and continue to do so. Daniels wishes there were more resources like showers available to people living on the streets or a place for people to sleep like donated rooms from casinos. Her hope is that she doesn’t see familiar faces at the feedings because she says then maybe that means a person has found somewhere to stay.
The City of Reno’s Response
Our Town Reno sought out the city of Reno’s response to get confirmation about the changes taking place at the shelter compound, since the staff member at Volunteers of America said it was their responsibility. We received an email from Reno Direct which stated the following:
The CAC meal service is provided by VOA. The process that is under way right now involves securing the campus and allowing only those that are there seeking services to come on to the campus. Those seeking services and in shelter at the CAC will be provided meals as has been the case for a number of years.
The change, in terms of meal services at the campus, will include the moving of those charity groups (of which there are 4 or 5) who currently serve meals in the parking and day use area of the campus. The City of Reno, City of Sparks and Washoe County are collaborating with the meal service groups to find a new location that better serves the population seeking these nightly meals. To be clear, these are not the folks receiving meals inside the CAC, rather those that come in daily to receive a nightly meal.
The shelter/VOA made the decision to likely have this happen beginning on May 1st.
The two statements from VOA and the city of Reno seem confusing as to who made the decision on these changes. There are also lunchtime meals, such as the ones Daniels has been preparing, and not just nighttime ones offered by volunteers. The city of Reno email seems to indicate only the CAC organized nightly meals will now be allowed for those staying at the shelter. Many people we have interviewed recently have complained those aren’t as healthy as the volunteer ones, and they aren’t served by caring neighbors, but by overworked staff. At this point, we haven’t heard of any decision on a new location for the volunteer meals.