TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
Cooking homemade meals for the homeless.
WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
Amber Dodson works full time, just like most people. However, following her workday, instead of cooking dinner for her family, she prepares a full meal for 150 to 300 people.
Four days a week, Dodson, co-founder of We Care Volunteers, plans and prepares a home-cooked meal in her home kitchen that measures only 7 by 11 feet. Then she serves it to the homeless and Reno’s working poor from the Tom Vetica Community Resource Center parking lot at 335 Record St.
“My belief is that everyone deserves to have a home-cooked meal,” Dodson says. “I want our guests to know that they matter, that we have not given up on them, that they are worthy — just as they are.”
After moving to Reno from the Bay Area in 2010, Dodson came across a Facebook posting about Ron Sapp, a retired, disabled Reno pastor who was handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless near the Truckee River in downtown Reno. Dodson and her son, Gianni DaCosta, were inspired to help him.
On a mission
Right about this time, the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission was struggling to obtain funding, and announced that it could not continue providing a daily main dish for homeless citizens. Dodson and DaCosta — who started We Care in May of that year by handing out side dishes in cooperation with the mission — decided to take over where the mission left off. We Care began providing a daily meal on its own in October 2010.
Currently, We Care provides a main dish (from cheese enchiladas to lasagna) and at least two side dishes, plus beverages, four nights a week, and works alongside other charities such as the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Blue Star Mothers, and others. The organization also hosts two events each year at which it provides weather-appropriate clothing and gear donated by the community, as well as free haircuts and toiletries.
Many of the frequent volunteers have once been homeless themselves. And they have been fed (some not so long ago) by Dodson. The volunteers are passionate about giving back and showing gratitude for the meals they received from We Care.
Food and conversation
Despite being busy serving and chatting with volunteers, Dodson interacts with many people in line. Her warm demeanor allows her to connect in a genuine way. Women, men, children, the elderly, and veterans await their turns, receiving food and sharing a bit about themselves. For some, this is their only meal that day.
Dodson’s goal simply is to provide conversation and a warm meal. She is adamant that no one needs to be challenged to receive her assistance. She wants the homeless and working poor to feel like they are a part of the community.
“We all have something to offer each other,” Dodson says.
The key to change, many would say, is to start small and work up to distinct progress. Such has been the case with We Care. Building on the individual efforts of Dodson and DaCosta, We Care achieved nonprofit status in Reno in 2011. The organization solicits food donations from local businesses, community groups, or connections made online.
“We have been blessed with ‘angels’ who support what we do in any way that is meaningful to them,” Dodson says.
The gratitude from guests keeps her motivated.
“What we do is not just necessary, but it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “We Care is just a conduit to give the community an opportunity to help.”
There are many other ways to get involved in helping serve the homeless community. Dodson suggests the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, the Tom Vetica Community Resource Center, and several local groups, including the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, LoKa Cares, and The Loving Hearts Club. These resources can be found online or on Facebook.
Erin Meyering volunteered with Dodson while researching this story. The night brought her to tears, simply because she realized many, herself included, are distant from true hunger. She is in awe of Dodson’s persistence, dedication, and strength in her efforts to tackle the local issue of hunger.