Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Supervisor David Couch | District 4
I’ve tried to use this little Couch’s Corner space afforded me weekly to talk about things happening in District 4 but sometimes a story is so important, it doesn’t matter in what District it happens. So is the story of Shari Rightmer and the Homeless Heroes of Taft. While it seems like everyone is scrambling to figure out what to do in the face of the virus, Shari has mobilized her homeless army to serve the community of Taft. Every day, her team staffs the food lines to provide food for the hungry and needy families affected by unemployment and uncertainty during this COVID crisis. With very little assistance from the state or local agencies trying to serve the homeless, Shari has built purpose and love into her service and the result shows in how the homeless population around Taft have responded to her message. Her message is so powerful, even those of us who aren’t experiencing homelessness may find it in us to respond.
Shari insists there are no victims in her team of homeless people that she helps as part of Shar-On Corporation, a nonprofit she started 5years ago. They are responsible for their homelessness, just as she was responsible for her homelessness, which she experienced for 5 months until she put her life together 11 years ago. It took her years to understand and prepare herself for normalcy, but by the time she did, she was able to get back on her feet and find a way to help others get back on their feet. “You need to work through what got you here,” she says. “I believe our group has forgotten who we really are. We’ve allowed ourselves to fall into a victim mentality then our stories become victim stories. We need to ask ourselves why we are in such pain, then hold ourselves accountable to change. The only thing that can change me is me.” She stresses this to her group, and she gets results. “Our group is very big on being held accountable.” She tells this to anyone who will listen. We should listen.
While other service providers for the homeless get a lot of federal, state, and local funding, Shari and her program don’t get any help, unless you count the handwashing station our District 4 office assisted her in getting a short time ago. “We’re running a million-dollar program on $450 per month”, she says, which is the monthly donation of cash she gets. That is all. Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK) provides much food and they glean some food from Golden Empire Gleaners and other outlets, but $450 is her cash outlay for now. Her time, and her workers time, is free. “We solved the food insecurity problem in Taft and the surrounding area on $450 a month. Nobody worries that they can’t get food. They know we have food, for anybody.” And in this period of crisis, it’s not just the homeless who are hungry or worried about their next meal. Just look at how long the food distribution lines are County-wide and look at how long people are willing to wait to get some food and you know we are experiencing great food anxiety in this time. With oil prices plummeting and the private prison in Taft closing, a lot of locals are worried about their next paycheck and their next meal.
Obviously, Shari’s not doing this for a paycheck. (She doesn’t get one.) What she brings to her program, that no amount of state or local funding can match, is love. And it’s that love, not the virus, that has infected her homeless community in Taft and empowered them to serve others. In a complete reversal of expectations, the homeless population of Taft is feeding the hungry in Taft and beyond. About 10 of those experiencing homelessness, she calls them her Homeless Heroes, staff a kitchen and food distribution line daily and feed 70 to 100 people a day, every evening between 5:30 and 6:30. They get a hot meal and a bag of groceries. And the folks they are feeding are not just the homeless. Anyone who needs a meal is getting fed, and that number is increasing every day. On top of that, her Homeless
Heroes staff the monthly CAPK local food distribution point, now twice per month, packing, sorting, handling, distributing and transporting – to those in line, now more than 800 families, double what it had been. On top of that, they help with delivery to those folks who are shut-in, who can’t get to the food bank, to make sure they get food too. They even bring cookies and cakes to the Taft City Council, wearing their “Doing Good For Nothing” t-shirts and spreading the message of goodwill to local officials.
“Four years ago we started with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. People would have ketchup packages in their pockets – that was their next meal. Now we have food preparation and food security. We can solve other problems this way.” Shari’s proud of her “people. “They’re not the dredges of society, but contributors.” Each day, Shari’s crews repeat Shari’s version of the fishes and loaves miracle. Each day, after the kitchen is cleaned and things are put away, Shari’s homeless heroes trudge back to the fields and alleys where they make their homes nightly. They may not have a place to lay their head, but they can rest knowing they gave, they served. While our state and county keeps searching to find solutions to our
ever-growing homeless problem, maybe we can learn a little from Shari, that it’s not how much we spend but how much we care that makes the greatest difference.
In District 4, we’ve worked toward understanding and solving the homeless problem. We participated in the point-in-time count, we’ve spearheaded contracts that put the homeless to work cleaning our freeways, we’ve organized and developed a plan to start a navigation center plan in Delano but nothing we’ve done can compare to the heart and soul Shari has put into her programs in Taft and that is why I had to give her a shout out in this week’s Couch’s Corner. In this time of high anxiety due to pandemic stress, I thought it important to show how keeping positive and having a heart of giving is always the best response.
If you want to know more about Shar-On Corporation and their great work in Taft, contact Shari directly at ShariRightmer1@gmail.com or text her at 661.205.6575. Feel free to contact the District 4 office at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 661-868-3680 if you have any questions of us. Have a safe week.