CONCORD, CA (Dec. 8, 2022) — Kelly McKinley is a true hometown hero. The longtime resident didn’t set out to solve homelessness in her city, but she saw a need and began to help in small ways.
The simple cause morphed into a much larger grass roots effort as friends, neighbors and strangers joined in.
McKinley, a former Girl Scout leader, had been following Concord resident c on Facebook and saw how he was helping others. One day last February, while volunteering at her son’s school during lunchtime, she was stunned to see all the food being thrown out. That was the spark that got her thinking that perhaps she could do something to feed people who didn’t have enough.
Meals three times a week
She started one day by bringing chili dogs to a handful of homeless people on the east side of Concord. As she posted on Facebook, people wanted to help. Then she posted on NextDoor and connected with Andie Altman and Lauren Kirby, who have helped with logistics and applying for nonprofit status with the state. The group of volunteers expanded to include Altman’s and Kirby’s contacts as well.
The dinners became more elaborate – with options like pasta, chicken, stews, grilled cheese sandwiches. They now serve food three times per week at Cowell Park through their nonprofit GROW, Grass Roots Outreach Warriors.
“Kelly has the most amazing passion for helping people,” Altman said.
Finding the right resources
As the volunteer group has grown, McKinley has more time to talk with the homeless and find out what they really need. She wants to empower them and help them feel safe, so she works on helping them create a community where they help each other and feel responsible for each other.
GROW also provides hot showers in a rented hotel room. She pays one of her “hommies,” as she fondly calls them, to organize it, hand out towels, etc. She also gives out laundry cards and detergent so they can wash their clothes.
“For people who want to improve their situation, we try to help them,” McKinley said. “We try to connect them to resources, but we’ve found that there are not a lot of resources in Concord.”
Before Altman moved to Concord, she lived in Santa Rosa – and there was a homeless camp just across the highway. She saw firsthand what Sonoma County was doing to help.
“They were very successful; it’s not perfect, but they are trying and finding success,” she noted. “Concord, however, is not doing much. We (volunteers) are going to keep trying. This is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”
The group accepts donations of cash, coats, warm clothes, blankets and food, especially canned goods containing protein.
They also welcome volunteers who want to cook, shop or pass out food.
Kara Navolio is a freelance writer, telling stories of real life heroes and interesting people for several local newspapers since 2015, including The Pioneer and Lamorinda Weekly. She is also the editor of a local magazine, Northgate Living, and her debut children’s picture book Everybody Can Dance! was released by Brandylane Publishers, Inc. in May 2019. She has lived in Walnut Creek with her husband for 30 years and is the mom of two now grown children.