A haven for the holidays
LISA LEEB says the community is even more generous than usual at the holidays.
Folklore, greeting cards and even popular opinion, all suggest that magic happens, during the Christmas holidays. At the Haven, Sonoma Overnight Support’s (SOS) emergency shelter, it seems to happen everyday.
For instance, there’s got to be a bit of magic in the fact that all of the shelter’s operations, including salaries for two fulltime employees, only amounted to $62,000 this year. With that money, a rotating set of 10 to 12 clean-and-sober people in need were fed a hot meal every night, guaranteed a safe place to sleep and received help getting back on their feet. Another 25 each month were able to take warm showers, do some laundry and find resources for housing and job training.
“We’re lucky because we don’t pay rent,” Lisa Leeb, executive director of SOS, is quick to point out, adding that the city subsidizes the building.
Leeb is happy it’s Christmas time, when the community is even more generous than usual, which helps make a merrier season for the clients who find themselves in the Haven for the holidays. The Blanket Brigade dropped off a load of handmade throws, while the Nut Tree Knitters brought a big bag of hats and scarves, more than enough for everyone. The Sonoma Alliance Church again adopted the Haven for its “12 Nights of Christmas” campaign, dropping off hot holiday meals for the 12 nights leading up to Christmas.
“People are always so generous this time of year, we’ve had a lot of wonderful donations,” Leeb said. Clients flipped over a donation that included mixed nuts, one of the little luxuries that’s rarely seen at the Haven.
“They were like, ‘Oh my god, cashews!,” Leeb said. “That’s a big deal around here.”
But SOS also bends over backwards to make sure Christmas is cheery at the Haven for all clients, who are even in more need. Each person is asked to make a list of the top three items they most want or need, and the staff does its best to meet expectations on meager funds.
“We make sure everyone has a gift to open on Christmas day,” Leeb said, adding that they also receive a CVS gift card to buy basic necessities.
But Leeb is quick to move the focus off the efforts of SOS, instead reminding this reporter that it’s only possible from the magic she sees every week, in everyday people. It comes from Massage Envy, which drops off laundry detergent monthly. It comes from an anonymous donor, who shows up and says “I’m going to the store, give me a list.”
“She fills the list,” Leeb said, “but she also does so much more. She comes back with a car-load of stuff, and a wrapped gift for every child. She buys bacon and things that are a rare treat because we can’t afford to buy them. It’s the little things that we all take for granted. It’s stuff like that that makes all the difference.”
For those looking to help, Leeb said the shelter runs on basics: coffee, sugar, toilet paper and paper towels are always in high demand. Bath towels and twin-sized sheets are also appreciated, as are sleeping bags and tarps, which the Haven passes out to those living on the streets.
“We say yes to everything. Nothing ever goes to waste,” Leeb said, adding that SOS is desperate for new boardmembers as well.
Leeb is an endless optimist, but she knows the reality of the world she lives in. Like many of her clients, she knows the Haven is often riding on the edge of a financial razor, one car repair away from ruin, at times. She admits, “Sometimes you just have to put your hands out, and hope something falls in.”
And like magic, it does. That magic ensures that the woman fleeing her abusive husband can provide a safe place for her children to open Christmas presents. It ensures the woman who worked diligently for decades only to lose her job and home has a place to sleep at night.
“We beg and we borrow, but we find a way,” Leeb said.
To learn more, visit sonomaovernightsupport.org or call 939-6777.