Emmaus Community in Sonoma County
Posted on December 4, 2015 by Sonoma Valley Sun - Interview by Larry Barnett
Tell me about Sonoma’s Brown Baggers, Elizabeth
It started a long time ago as part of the Vineyard Workers Services program. We’d provide
food to the residents in a migrant camp at St. Leo’s, here for the harvest. Other workers
were living under bridges by creeks and the local churches helped organize a program to
feed them. It’s changed over the years; in 1985 I was making sandwiches with Evelyn
Berger, then for the last 16 years we’ve been making burritos at St. Leo’s and delivering
them to hungry people on the streets.
How many people do you feed?
Well, we deliver 80-90 burritos, and on Mondays we hand out food to the homeless. Every
Wednesday we serve up to 40 free meals at The Grange to anyone who stops by. On
Fridays we offer a free dinner at La Luz from 4 – 5:30 P.M. We often have 50 people show
up for that. We also work with The Haven homeless shelter in Sonoma. The Haven is
wonderful, and offers a drop-in service to homeless people who need a place to shower
and safely rest for a while.
Wow. That’s quite something. How do you fund all this?
We depend on many sources. We get some institutional grants, like from foundations. Others, like the Vintner’s Association and Westamerica Bank help out financially to help cover food costs. And we get lots of food donated from scores – day old food from various markets, uneaten prepared food from catering companies and the like. Sometimes we’ve overwhelmed by food donations. Our cooks are mostly women volunteers.
I hear a British accent. Are you from England?
Yes, I was born in England and moved to Sonoma in 1968. There was only one stoplight in the whole town. We ended up with five kids and 10 grandkids; six grandkids are currently in local schools.
Tell me why you’re so committed to feeding others?
I was raised during WW2. At that time London was being bombed, and I recall standing in the front yard of our home handing out sandwiches to the fire fighters. Mother always took care of people, and it rubbed off on me. My three siblings are the same; helping others rubbed off on the whole family! I believe we have an obligation to others, to look out for others. Sometimes it’s not easy, but everyone needs human warmth and concern. My ethical belief is that we all have that responsibility. I do what I can. My husband and I have been fortunate. You can’t complain, you just get up and do it. I’ll do it ’till I drop.
The community is very lucky to have you.
People are in need and have problems. Many people here don’t know, and perhaps don’t want to know, about it. Affordable housing, for one, is a huge problem. Frankly, government makes it harder by being too narrow-minded and providing too little money for people in need. The Haven, for example, gets only $30,000 from local government but has operating expenses of $288,000.
What plans are in place to keep Brown Baggers going into the future?
We need younger people to help us. Brown Baggers will go on. Or, it won’t.