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Greater Richmond Interfaith Program to hold Harmony Walk

Greater Richmond Interfaith Program to hold Harmony Walk; still accepting student poster contest entries through October 8


The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) will hold its 23rd Annual Harmony Walk this Saturday, October 11 at John F. Kennedy Park, South 41st Street and Cutting Boulevard in Richmond.  The event, presented by the Chevron Richmond Refinery, begins with a rally and registration at 8:00 a.m., while the walk begins at 9:00 a.m.  Proceeds will help provide meals, housing and support to help the hungry and homeless in West County.


GRIP has also been conducting a companion student poster contest, inviting students to create original 12- by 18-inch posters to increase awareness of hunger and homelessness.  The theme: “Have a Heart for Hunger, Have a Heart for the Homeless.”  Posters are still being accepted through Wednesday, October 8 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the GRIP office, 165-22nd Street in Richmond.  Cash awards of $100, $50, and $25 will be given.


One out of every 50 students in the district is homeless, and according to Andrea Bailey, fund development director for GRIP, 70 percent of the estimated 15,000 homeless individuals in Contra Costa County are located in West County.  “The face of homelessness is changing,” said Ms. Bailey.  “We are seeing more children and more families.  And this is the first year that we’re seeing more teenagers,” Ms. Bailey said.  She noted that GRIP staff members are also seeing more unemployed people, more people who are marginally employed, and more people who work full time, but who don’t make enough money to both make rent and buy food—such as security workers, Bailey said.


“We always feel that children who come here are double victims—they don’t have a stable situation, and they didn’t do anything except be born into the family situation they were born into,” said GRIP Executive Director Art Hatchett, who said that children at the shelter get to their schools using AC Transit bus passes provided by the district’s homeless program, and by riding a shuttle bus provided by Opportunity West. 


“It’s interesting, because people come to us from different places—from people losing their homes because the owner they were renting from lost the house, to people with substance abuse problems,” Mr. Hatchett said.  “We try to set up an environment that stabilizes families, and gives them training and support services—like professional counseling and financial management planning, health services, and tutoring for the kids,” Mr. Hatchett said.  GRIP’s goal is to get families “in and out”—back into the community with the support they need to be self-sufficient.  This includes the goal of helping high school students secure their high school diploma or GED by the time they leave. 


Upstairs in the facility, across the hall from the family dorm rooms, are the children’s playroom—which received a “makeover” transformation this summer from Albany High student Chloe Drulis as part of her community service project—and a computer room for older students.  Downstairs is the Souper Center, a community kitchen that has served an average of 5,000 meals a month, including 240 lunches each day, seven days a week.  But with the hard-times economy, the kitchen served 5,800 meals in August to people coming in off the streets.  An additional 1, 700 meals are served each month to families who live upstairs.


The kitchen is run mainly by volunteer groups, often from different churches in West County.  They serve the meals and on occasion prepare the food as well, supervised by GRIP’s staff cook.  And 90 percent of the food used to prepare lunches is donated, with local food pantry providing the rest.  GRIP’s mission of feeding the poor began in 1972 when it opened food pantries in San Pablo and Richmond.  Today its 75-bed homeless shelter is the only facility in Contra Costa County that is dedicated to serving families.