Nov 28, 2019
by Hudson Meyer
If you happen to swing by the Oakville Grocery in downtown Healdsburg your eye will most likely catch a tree adorned in paper ornaments. This tree — known as theGiving Tree, isn’t any little craft project.The ornaments on this tree have a story. Each one has a gift request from a shelterless person of Healdsburg.
The Giving Tree was started by Oakville Grocerythree years ago with the intention of getting senior residents gifts. Enter Gail Jonas; an amazing friend of the shelterless and long-term advocate of Reach For Home, an organization which helps people without any kind of shelter. Gail knew that the tree could also be used to help the shelterless.
I asked 7th grader Bella Boardman to write about the crafting of the ornaments for the Giving Tree. “At first, it was only a couple of adults and kids such as Gail’s grandchildren Rody and Sophia Jonas. This year it has grown to at least ten kids from The Healdsburg School. After school we met with Gail and began cutting out paper ornaments and attaching labels to be filled in by the shelterless.”
When I interviewed Sophia Jonas, she explained how much she enjoys this tradition. “It's fun to get to know them and be able to say hi when I see them” she told me. “I think that you should give [the shelterless] a chance, and if you speak to them, you’ll actually find that they are really nice people.”
Jersey, a shelterless man agrees. “It’s nice to see that kids are being shown that just because we’re homeless, we’re still people. Most people don’t realize we sleep outside all year ‘round.”
Gail Jonas, doesn't think “homeless” is even an appropriate word for these residents. “Because calling a person ‘homeless’ has such negative connotations, I prefer to call them ‘shelterless.’ ‘Houseless’ is even better, but it results in baffled expressions from [those] who have houses. A shelterless person is one who, for a variety of reasons, has lost a roof over his or her head.”
To some, the shelterless are people to never make eye contact with. To others, they are people who should be acknowledged and treated with kindness. However, Reach For Home has another take on it—they believe that these residents are equal to your average person only with tougher stories. The purpose of Reach For Home helps decrease the struggles of the shelterless, by not only lending a hand in finding them homes, but lending a hand in helping them find themselves.
Rick Cafferata, the outreach coordinator of Reach For Home agrees. Cafferata works directly with the homeless by assisting them with everything from getting medical help to finding jobs and housing. Most importantly, he helps them find themselves. He and Gail Jonas work together to help the residents write out their holiday gift wish.
Cafferata, a former addict, wound up homeless for a while. After attending recovery meetings, having long hospital visits, and connecting with himself, he got his life back on track.“[My past experiences] help me to be able to have a conversation by sitting down and telling them that I know how they feel. I wish I got an ornament when I was homeless, but that never happened. Still, I love being able to look at the faces of the homeless when they get they’re presents. It’s priceless. They literally glow for a second.”
When I asked Gail Jonas about how the shelterless felt about getting gifts from strangers, she told me, “When they come to me to tell me they’re uncomfortable, I hand them a business card that says, ‘Helping Is Easy. Being Helped Takes Strength.’” It shows them that this isn’t pity; it’s an opportunity.
7th grader Julia Dolph wrote about the meaning of kindness. “To some it is just showing that you see them. The shelterless feel invisible…People need to practice more humility. It seems like we only care about ourselves.”
I’m writing this article as a 12-year-old girl who cares. So, starting November 29th through December 18th, show you care by stopping by theGiving Tree, picking up an ornament, and bringing a smile to a shelterless persons face.
Hudson Meyer is in the 7th grade at the Healdsburg School
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