Easter feast for Sonoma County's homeless

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Each person arrived with a different life story to Sunday's Easter feast for the homeless at Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa.

There was the young man who followed love to California and ended up at odds with the law. The teenager fulfilling volunteer hours. A group of friends who rarely leave their hotel rooms gathered at a table.

Whatever the reason, those who congregated downtown Sunday received plates heavy with ham and mashed potatoes. Nearby, volunteers cracked jokes as they trimmed beards and hair.

They gave away bags full of socks, soap and toys. They scrubbed feet clean.

"It's exactly everything I needed," said Cathy Therine, 54, of Santa Rosa.

Therine was among about 400 people who came for the food and camaraderie. She pulled out items from a gift bag: a brush to help manage her long hair, a toothbrush, new socks and a razor.

She sat at a long dining table set up under the big tent as the rain poured down.

"Being homeless, it warms me up to come here," Therine said.

Two tables down, a 71-year-old veteran got a second plate of food.

"I'm here because it's a free meal, I'm with friends and I'm not getting shot at," said Gerry, who would only give his first name but recited a rhyming poem.

"I'm too blessed to be depressed . . . Easter means God loves everyone from the uttermost to the guttermost," he said.

There were 4,539 homeless people in Sonoma County according to a 2011 census done by county staff and volunteers.

The Redwood Gospel Mission has been holding an Easter feast since it opened in 1963 and for the past decade in Old Courthouse Square, said Jeff Gilman, executive director for the nondenominational mission.

In previous years, they've canceled on Easter Sundays with inclement weather. But Gilman said that this year they decided the gloom and rain would not shut down the event, although they opted to go without electricity, which meant no live music or electric razors at the hair station.

"We decided rain or shine, we were going to be here," Gilman said.

Volunteers loaded gift bags with deodorant, tooth brushes, floss, shaving cream and other items and handed them out to long lines of people.

"Socks are the number one thing people said they needed," said Lynn Bunch, an assistant with the Redwood Gospel Mission.

Bunch said that in the last week they received enough donations of toiletries, toys and other goods to fill a moving truck.

About 75 people volunteered at the event, including members of the Mission's New Life recovery program.

Volunteer Hyun Hee Kim, 48, of Rohnert Park heard about the event at her church, Rohnert Park's Korean Seventh Day Adventist Church.

"We are here to share with everyone," said Kim, whose family runs the Honey Cuisine Korean barbecue on East Cotati Avenue.

At a makeshift hair salon set up under a tent, Jana Martinson, 50, asked for a hairstyle modeled after 1970s actress Farrah Fawcett.

Volunteer hair stylist Elsie Flowers of Cloverdale starting trimming her wavy layers and chuckled at the cultural reference.

Martinson said a couple had generously been letting her stay in their hotel room and that she was slowly getting back clothes and necessities after a recent loss.

"I'm sleeping on the floor but that's OK for now," Martinson said.

She bounded out of the hair cut station, with new bouncy layers, and headed to the face painting booth to get a butterfly on her cheek.

"Butterflies symbolize freedom to me," Martinson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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