By Neyra Rodriguez
It will be a cold Christmas for those sleeping on the streets with nothing warm to wear or even eat.
Many are struggling this holiday season, but the low income and homeless populations are the ones struggling most. With government funding not providing, some local organizations are taking up the challenge of providing hot meals and some warm clothes to those who will suffer the harsh winds this winter.
The Really Really Free Market aimed to help homeless individuals with essential supplies Nov. 21 at Fairmount Park in Riverside. Organizations such as the Riverside Mutual Aid Network, Communit(IE), Food Not Bombs and IE Community Fridges gave away free clothes, books, toiletries and meals. They also hosted a healing circle for anyone needing to let go of emotions, frustrations and worries.
Simon Kiolo, a Food Not Bombs volunteer, said he wanted to take the initiative to help as many people as he can.
“These three organizations were brought together because we want to help the community to make sure that we are all sticking together and taking care of each other,” he said. “We are in a very tumultuous time. We as community members recognize that and we thought that if people want to come together and help, then we will provide the avenue for them to do so.”
Eliana Zacharias, 28, of Riverside, drove up with a car full of clothing to donate.
“I’ve been wishing to see something like this in Riverside,” she said. “I’ve wanted to see the community come together instead of individuals just looking out for themselves.”
Kiolo said coming together is the only way to get through this pandemic.
Beverly Grace, a Communit(IE) volunteer, said the organization collects monetary and hygiene product donations and distributes aid to the homeless population in the Inland Empire area.
“Everyone should give back to the community,” she said. “People need help now more than ever.”
Grace said she believes that more people should take initiative to help others because ,even though she is not getting paid, it is an experience that she will never forget.
Kiara Maldonado, who runs Communit(IE) with Grace, said much of the organization’s ability to provide items such as washcloths, toothpaste and brushes, baby wipes and feminine hygiene products was made possible by donations from people who heard about their efforts through social media.
According to Kiolo, the pandemic is not solely affecting homeless and low income people anymore, but is also affecting people who were financially stable before COVID-19.
“Our government institutions are not giving these people the help that they really need,” he said, recalling an encounter with a veteran on disability and Social Security who was struggling to pay his rent. “This is a disabled veteran, a hero, someone who is supposed to be venerated by our society. But our society and our institutions are not able to help him.”
These three volunteers dedicated their time to helping the community without getting anything in return. Grace said she simply wants to inspire others to help.
“We are just normal people who took initiative to help those in need,” she said. “I hope that this inspires everyone to do this in their communities because every community nationwide needs this kind of help.”