June 26, 2008

Loaves as the Recession Deepens

Sister Libby Fernandez
Photo © 2007 Peter S. Lopez

I spoke for about twenty minutes today with Sister Libby Fernandez, the Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes. Ostensively, our conversation centered on the organization's Form 990 filing for 2007, but quickly we were into other topics, including the deepening recession and the healthfulness of the daily lunches L&F serves to an average of over 700 people.

I will attempt a comprehensive, albeit amateur, analysis of the 990 in the near future. Form 990 is a report on the financials and activities of a non-profit organization. For now, I'll hit on some of the conspicuous highlights from the form and post on the other discussed topics.

Loaves should be lauded for the efficiency of its fundraising operation, which does its job using just 4.4% of funds raised during the year. That is stellar, an extraordinarily low percentage -- far, far below the 35% cap set by institutions that monitor non-profit organizations. AND, based on the types of expenditures the Fundraising Department had in 2007, most of their effort was very directly funneled toward getting out news of the needs of homeless people to possible donors.

On a more-minor topic, there is an indication that Loaves did not get a good return on its cash and temporary investments in 2007. Their overall rate of return may have been as low as 2.5%, due, perhaps in significant part, to a policy of leaving large sums uninvested. [At the beginning of 2007, L&F had >$600,000 in cash that was not earning interest; at the end of the year the amount was nearly $750,000. From earlier Forms 990, found at Guidestar.org, I learn that L&F had $550,694 in non-interest-earning cash at the beginning of 2006 and $1,277,235 in non-interest-earning cash at the beginning of 2005.] The organization may have failed to reap an easy extra $10,000+ in interest by failing in the chore of simple cash management.

Because California is in a quickly deepening recession, it is fortunate that Loaves & Fishes has reserves in excess of five million dollars, enough, by itself, to cover a year of its activities at the current rate of needed services. These reserves will be a God's send in the tough economic times ahead as donations become more difficult to gather and the needy population in greater Sacramento grows. Chunks of those reserves are, however, reserved for other purposes, including the purchase of a warehouse.

Sister Libby told me that donors have been sending in smaller checks in the last month and that the organization must brace itself for tough times. The Christmas season is primetime for receipt of donations, but it is sure to be difficult to inspire people to give if economic indicators are correct that signal more- employment, -mortgage-payment and yet higher gas-price problems.

A subject of interest to me is the healthfulness of food the organization serves in its Friendship Park in the morning and as lunch in its dining rooms.

The cover story in the June 23 issue of Time reported on the unhealthy lunches served to children. A tray of food, pictured as a full two-page spread, and cited as "From Bad to a Whole Lot Worse" for children, was not dissimilar to what denizens of L&F might eat for lunch. The menu was nachos topped with cheese and beef; salsa; refried beans; mexican rice; peaches; two chocolate-chip cookies and a beverage of orange juice. The portions pictured were much less than what people eating at Loaves & Fishes see. Such a meal was cited in the magazine as junk food.

Far better was a tray of food that Time pictured and captioned as "Lunch Like it Could Be." For this meal, the menu was a turkey wrap; grapes; vegetable soup; carrots and dip; and strawberries, with lowfat milk as the beverage.

While meals for kids is not the same as what adults should eat, what the two groups should and should not eat is very similar. Another article in Time, "Dr. Andrew Weil's Wellness Diet," offers some specific direction of what an adult's diet should include and exclude. Also, the USDA's Food Pyramid is a great guide for learning about what a person should eat. Here, two of the USDA's charts of how many servings of vegetables (and in which subgroups) people should consume.

Sister Libby brought up a possible fix to the vegetable-servings shortage: Gleaning fields something in the manner that the defunct Sacramento-area group Senior Gleaners had done to rescue fresh vegetables from local fields (or grocery stores?) that are edible yet not perfect enough for choosy shoppers. Actually, Sister Libby suggested that *I* look into the matter, and I will. Possibly, Senior Gleaners' methods were efficient such that vegetables from the thriving Central Valley -- where we live! -- can be delivered for preparation and consumption by the poor and homeless in L&F dining rooms.

There are many challenges on her to-do list, Sister Libby told me. County budget cuts threaten healthcare services for the poor and a suit against the local police department to compensate homeless folks for their confiscated belongings is slowly moving forward in the courts. A similar court case recently succeeded at compensating Fresno-area homeless people for their confiscated property, Sister Libby told me. There is also the threat that budget cuts will keep the Winter Shelter at CalExpo from opening late this year, leaving a great many homeless Sacramentans in the street during the year's coldest months.

We also discussed the bounty of pastries, cookies, cakes and pies that are given to people in Friendship Park weekday mornings. The food is good, but past fresh, donated by local grocery chains and bakeries.

I believe these sweets are a threat to the health of the homeless. Some people are gorging themselves, consuming large numbers of servings of the worst kind of junk food, larding themselves with fat and sugar every day.

There are people whom I could name whose lives have devolved into ones of sleeping fifteen hours a day and eating (and, perhaps, drinking) the rest of the time. Theirs is a slow path to suicide. The organization Loaves & Fishes may have an obligation to instruct people on how to eat healthfully, given the limited sources the poor have to keep themselves fed.

I don't know that Sister Libby disagrees with what is written in the prior two paragraphs, but she did seem more libertarian in her views than me, believing that L&F strives mightily with its role to make what food it can find available to the homeless. It is not L&F's role to rule people's lives.

June 1, 2008

The Sacramento Homeless Connect [Part 2 of 3]

This is the second part in a series about the May 31, 2008, Sacramento Homeless Connect held at CalExpo. See, also, Part 1.
Inside the CalExpo building, that is used as a shelter for homeless people during the cold winter season, there was a lot of activity as homeless and other poor people spoke with the services expert at the dozens of stations that were set up. Both the experts and the homeless/poor I spoke with were happy about the contact and information flow, feeling that a lot of good was coming from it all that would manifest in bettering many homeless people's lives.

I wasn't able to talk to people manning [and womanning] the busiest stations -- those that addressed medical conditions and housing needs -- but experts and staff at others of the stations were happy to talk with me as availability permitted.

Homeward Street Journal

Paula of the Homeward Street Journal told me of her bi-monthly paper and how it helps the homeless.

First of all, homeless people are invited to sell the paper on the street and keep all proceeds. The paper itself [Eight pages, reduced-broadsheet size for the May-&-June issue] both informs homeless people of activities and services for them and about political matters related to homelessness in the Sacramento area and beyond.

The paper is also very helpful at educating Sacramentans unaffected by poverty of issues that relate to the difficult lives of those living on the street and in shelters.

In addition to writing for Homeward Street Journal, Paula serves on boards and committees to help homeless people. She told me that the Ending Chronic Homelessness Initiative Collaberative in its first year of a ten-year run was very pleased to have exceeded its first-year goal in placing people in housing.

DHA - VOA - Aid in Kind

A woman whose name I failed to get and man named George were at a station at the event told me a little about Aid-in-Kind housing and the benefits for persons who sign up for that program.

[more to come]

The Art and Ethos of Bicycle Maintenance

One of two stations on the parking lot offered repair and tips and tools for homeless/poor people with two-wheel machines.

Jeremy of Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen talked to me a little about his day at the CalExpo event and the non-profit business, for which he is a member of the Board of Directors and acts as a volunteer and the "event co-ordinator." At about 1pm, I was told that two dozen people had visited the station -- staffed by three volunteers -- for aid or information. Later, when I passed by, yet more people were making use of the information, human help and tools at hand.

Jeremy told me the goal of Bicycle Kitchen was to promote bicycle use, generally, and to teach and help people to take care of and repair their own bikes. The back of a card Jeremy gave me says that nobody who visits BK is "denied service for lack of funds." The mission of Bicycle Kitchen is thus: "By providing free and low-cost bicycles and maintenence education, we promote cycling as a reliable, low-cost mode of transportation for everyone." Headquarters of Bicycle Kitchen can be found at 36th & Broadway in Sacramento. It's the place to go to keep your speedy machine in good operating condition.

Pet Corral

Another station located on the parking lot offered care for event-goers' animal friends [aka, pets].

I was told [and saw that] only three pets -- all mid-sized dogs -- were turned over to the corral for kennel care. The animals were made happy and comfortable by the four pampering staff members onhand.

The volunteers were each wearing a red Wooff T-shirt. W.O.O.F.F stands for "Welfare Of Our Furry Friends," a Sacramento-area non-profit organization and has as its mission to look after the wellbeing of animals of the homeless. Its services, including kennel care, are well known to animal "owners" in Loaves' Friendship Park.

Table Nearest the Door

To the left as one entered the event complex were two women at a table that was covered with stacks of brochures and a bin of oatmeal cookies.

The ladies told me the brochure getting the most attention was "Rapid HIV Testing" which touts the 99%-accurate HIV Rapid Test. From a swabbing at the gum line, you can learn in less than 40 minutes if you (or a partner or potential partner) has HIV antibodies. Unhappily, this test for antibodies is not the same as a test for the HIV virus, itself.

The test really only indicates if the person tested contracted HIV six or more months ago. More recent exposure to HIV can be too soon for one's body to develop the horde of antibodies that try to combat the infection.

To my mind, the rapid test is of limited value, but the oatmeal cookies were fully good.

Event goers were invited, at the triage stage, to be tested for the HIV virus itself -- with one of the tested persons, chosen at random, receiving a $50 gift card [from Safeway, I think it was]. I didn't look into it to learn how nor how quickly results were reported.

Food and Music

There was a bodacious quantity of great foot and great music supplied in the area in back of the Winter Shelter. The earliest of eaters received a fat, full roaster chicken breast and generous helpings of potato salad and beans and a third of a cob of corn, plus a delicious brownie. [Food is of heightened importance to the homeless, as you may already know.] Later in the day, some of the portions diminished [half-breasts!] or changed [bring in the spanish rice and nachos!] in apparent response to the bigger-that-anticipated-turnout of event goers.

There were two major complaints: One, that the seating area was very inadequate. Also, that if you left your plate of food briefly, you might find that an event vounteer can have put it in the trash.

Music was supplied by Guitar Mac and the Blues Express who got wholly positive reviews from the crowd. I agree; they were terrific. Too, it was a perfect choice of musical genre and the sound level was just right, in the Goldylocks middle. Not to loud; not to soft.

The Gift Bag

One wholly popular item that got rave approval from event goers was the gift bag that was given out to everyone upon leaving. A ~six-gallon-sized bag, branded "Salvation Army," was filled with a lot of good non-expired boxes and cans of food, a pair of socks, a water bottle and first-aid kit. Yowza Salvation Army.
[more to come]