My friend, Christina Conway, spearheaded our first volunteer mission for the Downtown Women's Center and we decided to first do the toiletry kits that are so needed for ladies who have been living on the streets. Between everyone we know, there's a lot of ways to get supplies, like hitting up p.r. firms and hotels and corporate businesses (who should be doing this anyway) to get donations of travel size shampoos, conditioners, lotions, toothpaste, brushes, dental floss, deodorant ... the basic needs we all have. If we couldn't find things that way, there was always the 99 Cent Store.
We got together on a Sunday afternoon at Christina's house, and had a blast assembling the bags, while we also got the bonus of catching up with each other in our busy lives. Christina put out a great spread and jammed good tunes while we chatted and collated all the things that had been found to include. Hair ties, cotton swabs, energy bars, hand sanitizer, whatever we could get to make a woman feel a little better about herself, along with notes of encouragement and love handwritten by everyone there to let the women know that people DO care.
Christina and I got together yesterday to go downtown and deliver the goods to the Downtown Women's Center, and were once again horrified that the absolute Walking Dead scene that is Skid Row is allowed to exist here in "The Greatest Country In The World". When you hear that phrase now after ever seeing Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, you know that it now seems like just a bad joke. It couldn't be further from the truth these days, and the People are just going to have to take care of each other. We HAVE to.
We brought in the boxes of bags, and it was a fun atmosphere inside, a welcome reprieve from the hot sun and total poverty outside. Missy Elliot was blasting, ladies were chatting, and volunteers were running around taking care of things. It was encouraging to see that we were not nearly alone in our dropping off of Care packages, as there was a steady stream of like-minded ladies bringing in their own versions. We saw the kitchen where we will soon be going to prepare a meal for the clients, and the dining room where the women assemble to eat and gather. There are a whole bunch of programs going on all of the time, from movies to music to games to seminars. There is a big sign behind the check-in counter that says "Still I Rise", after the Maya Angelou poem, and here ... you can believe these women will, with the good work and support these people are doing. (We took no photos here, because of respect.)
We met Andy Motz, the Communications Coordinator, who took us on a little tour of the facility. There is a health clinic in-house, so twice a week women can get checkups and referrals. This includes the very, very needed mental health workers also. There is a t.v. area, where the women can just check out of reality for a bit. There is also permanent housing available here upstairs - also with support services - and we saw the sitting area where the residents can hang out in the lobby.
Motz took us outside and showed us the very impressive "Made - By DWC" storefront outside. There are lovely gifts that would be right at home in any shop on Abbot Kinney, from candles in beautiful teacups, to handmade journals and soap. The women from DWC make all of the products themselves, and all proceeds go back to the Center. Next time you need a great gift (Mother's Day is coming!), this is the spot, because you'll make Mom smile AND help get the women of Los Angeles off of the streets.
Next to the handmade goods is a little café, where women can work, and again, the profits go back to the DWC. The sandwiches were freshly made from Homeboy Bakery (the fantastic organization helping keep people out of gangs), which were great and again helping TWO organizations just by eating. We vote - and help each other out - with our dollars. Christina also said that they have the best chai latté in town, so take note of that if that is your flavor!
We had a zillion questions and Motz answered them all thoughtfully, and we all shared our mutual gratitude for each other, and the true relief that at least there are still some people who care and are trying to do something about this horror story that is the homeless situation here in Los Angeles ... and around the whole country, really, but it is honestly just not right. Not with all of the (unevenly distributed) wealth in this city, that often just drives right past with the windows up. Or in Venice, steps over fellow human beings on the sidewalks on the way into their BUB.
Not us, and I hope not you. There are SO many opportunities to help. You can volunteer, either as an individual or a group (and the group thing makes it so simple and fun and gratifying!) at the DWC, or a zillion other organizations. You can prepare a meal and serve it. You can donate toiletry kits, clothing, and dollars. You can answer phones. You can listen. You can console. Just letting someone know that someone else cares, and will look them in the eye and hear them makes such a massive difference in someone's day. There are so many problems needing solutions in our world right now, but you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere is CARING. And then going out and doing something - ANYTHING - about it.
Thank you to the great folks at the Downtown Women's Center, and to Christina for getting us all involved. As ever, love is the best answer.
*Photos by Christina Conway