“I guess you could say it’s a family tradition,” she explains. “About 10 years ago, my aunt started feeding the homeless. We would pack up dinners at her house and take them to Skid Row in downtown LA. Four years ago, I ventured out on my own and started feeding the homeless on my birthday on August 22nd. It’s the best gift in the world to be able to share what you have with others. I can’t do much, but if I can make someone smile on my birthday, it makes me smile.
“I started out feeding about 150 people. I still did it on Skid Row, because the need is so great there. They’re only served once a day right now because of lack of funding for programs.”
When some of the other Omnitrans coach operators found out about Darla’s project, they were inspired to help. With their support, she was soon able to feed as many as 350 people.
“I am so blessed,” Darla says. “Some of the coach operators have been doing this with me since day one. They are always asking what I need, then go out of their way to make it happen. They are such kind, really good people.”
Not only has the group made it possible to feed more people, they were also able to distribute hygiene kits earlier this year in addition to lunch. The packs included a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a washcloth, a bar of soap and a pair of socks. All the donations came from friends and family. It’s very personal for them.
Recently, Darla’s co-workers wanted to take the project closer to home. They decided to feed the homeless right here in San Bernardino as part of their Thanksgiving holiday.
As Darla’s sister and fellow coach operator Melva Allen points out, it’s especially meaningful to the coach operators. “It’s heart-wrenching for us to see these people every day, whether they are on the street as we drive by or on our buses, trying to get somewhere to eat or sleep. These are people we serve every day, and we all want to help them.”
Darla nods. “I just feel a person’s soul is measured by what they do for someone else–especially the poor, the homeless, the condemned, the incarcerated—all the forgotten people. And, really, you never know when you might find yourself in a similar situation. Our grandmother used to always say ‘We are always one paycheck away from being on the streets.’”
And along the way there are success stories, like this one that Darla shares.
“Jerome was a homeless man I met on the bus when I first started working here. I saw him transition and turn his life around, getting a job and finding housing. Now he’s paying it forward. He went with us to feed last year in LA. He prayed with people, gave them lunch, and shared his story with them. He inspired a lot of people, and I’ve invited him to join us again this year.”
The group plans to distribute meals on Sunday, November 22nd at 2:00 p.m. They will visit several different locations, rotating approximately every half hour. Their first stop, and the one where they expect to reach the most people, will be at Seccombe Lake. Next they will head to the Norman F. Feldheym Central Library, followed by the park behind the city court house building on 2nd and Sierra. The last stop will right behind the U-Haul on Rialto where a small population of homeless are living.
So far Darla has ten or more Omnitrans coach operators pitching in with preparations. From packing food and putting together hygiene kits at her house to delivering the lunches to people on the street, feeding this many people is a big process.
She tells us their greatest need is for donation items. This year they are serving meal boxes with two pieces of chicken, a scoop of mashed potatoes, a scoop of string beans, a slice of coffee cake, bottled water and—if they can manage it—a juice. They plan to order the chicken, make the mashed potatoes and make the string beans. The coffee cake is being donated by Dion’s Coffee Cake on Century in LA.
“The biggest challenge is not being able to do more,” Darla tells us. “You never feel like you’re doing enough, because you always leave someone out. That’s the hardest part–and only doing it once or twice a year. The need is so great. I feel lucky to be able to do this with my friends. Whether it’s my birthday or a Thanksgiving lunch, this is the gift I give myself and I love it.”
If you would like to learn more about what you can do to help feed the homeless, please email Darla at Raindnonme97@gmail.com.
– Juno Kughler Carlson