Tucked away on the north side of town behind bustling warehouses and busy streets, Loaves & Fishes is a local organization that has been helping Sacramento’s homeless population for the past 31 years.
“Our mission is to be a welcoming, safe, hospitable place for homeless people to come and receive services,” said Sister Libby Fernandez, who has been the Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes for the past eight years. “What we try to do is provide the basic necessities to help them find the next step out of homelessness.”
What originated from the simple act of handing out sandwiches in the early 80s now stretches across five acres in the area surrounding North C Street. They offer 12 in-house programs that provide services to those who are homeless and in need, a number documented at approximately 2,538 people, according to the 2013 Sacramento Steps Forward Report.
“All of these programs allow for people to do a lot of things in one spot, and it’s very helpful,” said Justin Wandro, the Development Director for Loaves & Fishes. “It makes it, in many ways, possible to get a lot of stuff done so that they don’t have to be traveling all over the city when they don’t have any money or means for transportation.”
Of the 12 programs, the three most frequently utilized are the Dining Room, Friendship Park, and Maryhouse. The Dining Room serves anywhere from 600 to 800 people daily. Friendship Park is a private park where people have access to visiting support services, storage, restrooms, and shaded benches free from scrutiny or harassment. Maryhouse is a daytime shelter that offers sanctuary for women and children in transition or without a home, providing counseling, guidance, and support in their daily struggles.
A less utilized but equally crucial program offered by Loaves & Fishes is the Mustard Seed School, consisting of a few small classrooms that provide an education for children who cannot attend public school due to their circumstances.
“A big part of Mustard Seed School is allowing the kids to just be kids. When they’re out on the streets, in the shelter, or even in a motel room somewhere, they have to put up a tough mentality,” Wandro said. “When they’re here at Mustard Seed School, it’s a safe environment and they’re with their peers who are all experiencing the same situation they are.”
While the number of people that Loaves & Fishes provides services to has remained relatively consistent over the last few years, the one inexplicable increase has been the number of children who attend the Mustard Seed School, Wandro said.
Currently, the school serves approximately 30 students a day from 3 to 14 years old. The children are initially evaluated along Common Core standards before being introduced to the Montessori-style classrooms that house multiple grade-levels. Students are provided with breakfast from the Maryhouse in the morning, and nutritional snacks are offered throughout the day, said Angela Hassell, the Director of the Mustard Seed School. Lunches are donated on a daily basis through the commitment of people donating one day per month, but the organization is still in need of more food or cash donations.
“Summer are the lean months for us,” Hassell said. “Those tend to be the months where donations are significantly down, whether it’s regular donations or cash donations. We tend to be hurting this time of year.”
Anyone interested in helping Loaves & Fishes is invited to stop by for a tour and begin the process of becoming a volunteer. Those who do not have the time are always welcome to join their advocacy program or make monetary contributions, Sister Libby said.
“One of the things we talk about is that we would love to come in one day and there be nobody here. There would be no need for us to be here anymore,” Wandro said. “That would be a wonderful, wonderful day.”