They looked delicious. All fresh, hot out the oven. Prepared with care and attention by Ron. Diane had supervised the process from start to finish, indeed she and James were really the chefs to be credited with the recipe and preparation, but Ron was now plating, and his mind was entirely focussed on a tricky process. His aim? Not to spill a single drop. Bell peppers filled with Bolognese sauce and rice, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and then put back into the large oven to brown. The looked delicious, in fact, the burger that I was going to eat after this dinner service had completely, paled into insignificance against the beauty of Diane’s creation. Yummy!
Another night in the EHC homeless shelter close to the Plant, in east San Jose. Another night for the 150 or so who yet again had made their way through another day out on our ‘not so cold’ streets, although each and every one of them looked desperate and desolate. As they traipsed into our kitchen, Ron and I began to chat. The bell peppers we so hot that I was burning my fingers every time I picked one up to plate it, and that with gloves on too! To use tongs made little sense, only because the delicacy of each piece would have made it a real chore to lift. Ron laughed, probably the first time I’d seen him laugh in months, and as I cracked another joke, one which is too rude to repeat on this blog, he laughed again, and finally, yes finally after speaking with him in little spurts for months, Ron talked to me about his life and why he’d ended up in this shelter.
Ron was born in Stockton, and grew up there too. He worked for a very large nut company for many years. That’s nuts as in the one’s you would eat. This company is well-known but they’re not getting any free advertising on this blog. Ron was in charge of moving tons of raw product from one side of the factory into the production side, where the nuts would be cooked, cured, smoked or whatever else they do with almonds and walnuts. He had his job, the same job, for twenty years, and then, unfortunately, his wife took sick with cancer of her uterus. She died, at the tender age of 37, quite suddenly he said, after a 7 year battle with the disease and Ron fell apart. He’d only known one girl, they’d met as kids and dated, married and had 4 kids of their own, and so, understandably, Ron was devastated. His employer lost patience and Ron lost his job. His kids finished school, moved away and Ron decided he needed a change. He met another lady, one who he believed would change his luck. And that, she certainly did.
After dating for a while and after moving into low-income housing in San Jose (Ron had lost his home in Stockton when he was forced to pay all the medical bills for his wife’s illness), his new girl friend got arrested for doing something illegal and something Ron refused to discuss with me last night. She was sent to prison, but that was a violation of their rental agreement at their home. Ron lost his house and became another statistic, roaming our streets every day looking for hand outs and or assistance. And the he found the EHC Lifebuilders Boccardo shelter and moved in. Ron became interested in cooking and was given the opportunity to work alongside Diane, Anita and head chef Paul. Since April of last year, when Ron found a certain amount of peace in his new home, he has settled into a lifestyle that has made him more confident, given him a new beginning and the opportunity to learn a new trade. Now all he needs is a paid job in the real world, something that won’t come easy to him or to any of the other men and women who work in the shelter every day.
Like me, you can volunteer. Like me you can go and talk to these people. They don’t bite! Like me, you will be amazed at the stories you’ll be told and you’ll be surprised just how close any of us out there are to ending up in similar circumstances to people like James, Ron and their friends at the center.
I’ve said it many times before. Giving money, giving food, giving clothes, will not end homelessness in America. Giving these people dignity, the stability of a steady job, giving them the ability to live with themselves and believe that they are indeed not all pariahs, is the sort of progress required to put an end to this shocking situation that millions of people find themselves in today. Homelessness in America, is something out government needs to address, and it probably won’t. You can help though. If you want to know more, go to http://www.ehclifebuilders.org/