By Mike Kinney
One hundred tents were distributed to people suffering from homelessness in Richmond and San Pablo on Saturday thanks to a Stockton woman’s “100 Tent Challenge.”
Keisha Johnson and fellow volunteers visited homeless encampments to pass out new tents, backpacks, socks, meals and hygienic products as part of an effort that began in Johnson’s hometown of Stockton and has spread to other Bay Area cities and beyond.
Several weeks ago, when Stockton was battered by strong winds and rain, Johnson became concerned about her city’s homeless population and felt something needed to be done.
“I decided to put in $100 toward purchasing new tents for the local homeless population,” she said.
She took to social media to ask for donations and was amazed at the response. Within 48 hours, she was able to buy 100 tents that were subsequently distributed to the homeless in Stockton.
“So, I started what I called the ‘100 Tent Challenge’ on social media throughout the greater Bay Area,” she said.
The response from individuals from the Bay Area cities has been amazing, Johnson said. Johnson, her volunteers and individuals from each city who are a part of the ‘100 Tent Challenge’ have completed outreach to the homeless populations in Stockton, Oakland and now Richmond. They will be going soon to Vallejo, Sacramento, Fremont and San Francisco.
In Richmond, community activist Antwon Cloird helped Johnson and volunteers acquire tents via generous donations from the Richmond-based Green Remedy and Holistic Healing marijuana dispensaries. Cloird was unable to attend Saturday’s event due to an injury, but he helped volunteers identify local encampments to visit over the phone.
Golddie Williams, the founder of “GOT GOALS Youth and Family Organization” donated 100 backpacks filled with hygienic products that were distributed to the homeless. The contents of the backpacks came from donations from Aspire Richmond Technology Academy and Greater Richmond Interfaith Program.
“Through the generosity of the community, as well as the California competitive spirit in seven cities here in Bay Area such as Stockton, Oakland, Richmond, Sacramento, Vallejo, Fremont, San Francisco along with Las Vegas and Dallas have also accepted the challenge,” Johnson said. “What originally started out as a goal of 20 tents have become a cross country movement to not only provide temporary shelter, but food and hygiene products for thousands of people in need.”
On March 14, the crew is set to go to Las Vegas, and on April 10 it will be Dallas.
Cloird called the efforts by Johnson and the generosity of Green Remedy and Holistic Healing and Williams a blessing.
“It’s about partnering with local organizations to help meet the challenges of assisting the local homeless populations,” Cloird said.
Added Williams, “We are hoping these kinds of partnerships will encourage other people in Richmond to become involved as well.”
The outreach volunteers went to numerous sites Saturday. Numerous unsheltered people were served at Macdonald Avenue by Harbour Way, including a barefooted Jesse, who expressed sincere gratitude for the community effort.
“I have been sleeping out here on the street for the past number of weeks with no shoes or socks,” he said.
Another woman named Helen cried when she received her new tent and backpack that included women’s hygienic products.
“I can’t believe it, these wonderful gifts from people who care about us here on the street,” she said, adding the tent will help alleviate what has been a “brutal and cold” winter.
From there, the volunteer car caravan proceeded down MacDonald to the Nevin Park at 4th Street, where dozens more were served, including families with children.
“Many people in the community do not understand the reality that our unsheltered neighbors go through when living on the streets,” volunteer Keisha Johnson said. “A new tent and a pair of new socks can truly make a big difference.”
The car caravan also reached the large homeless encampment behind the Target Store wall off of 42nd Street and MacDonald close to the Ohlone Greenway bike trail. The caravan honked their horns to announce their presence and dozens of people from the encampment descended with delight to meet up with the volunteers.
“It is important for them to know that people care about them and that together we can and will make a difference,” Williams said. “Because the people of Richmond are a very caring people and they have big hearts to help their fellow human beings in need.”