OAKLAND (KPIX 5) This week's Jefferson Award winner has made helping the homeless of the East Bay her mission.
Candice Elder brings bagged lunches and hygiene kits containing items like toothpaste and toilet paper to East Oakland's homeless encampments. Elder greets each homeless resident with a hug and well wishes.
"These encampment leaders are our friends," explained Elder. "We hug them. We talk to them. We sit and visit with them every week."
The visits are a lifeline for Carrie, who prefers not to disclose her last name. For the last three years, Carrie has been living in a tent-like structure under a BART train overpass near the Oakland Coliseum.
"Oh man, she's a blessing," said Carrie of Elder. "Everybody that comes around here helps us. They are all a blessing."
Elder and her small army of volunteers are part of the East Oakland Collective's Feed the Hood, a bi-monthly program that's provided more than 23,000 lunches and hygiene kits to 3000 East Bay homeless residents. Elder founded the East Oakland Collective, or EOC, in 2016 as a way to engage her community, and build political and economic stability in East Oakland.
Volunteer Elisa Cecaci says events like Feed the Hood are critical in maintaining the city's sense of community, as many are pushed out by skyrocketing rents.
"A lot of us have been displaced, " explained Cecaci. "This activity is important for me because Oakland has changed drastically and a lot of us are reeling from the changes that are happening here."
EOC also encourages smaller groups like schools and churches to do their own bagged lunch programs, and the organization provides training to those groups.
EOC's Nick Houston says Candice is an inspiration.
"She is extremely passionate about creating a bridge between the people and resources that create equity," declared Houston.
The non-profit's homeless crisis response team works with residents when encampments need to be moved. It uses social media and word of mouth to recruit volunteers like first-timer Eugene Jackson
"I think it is touching. I think it's great," said Jackson. "It kind of puts things into perspective to know we are all just a check away from being right here, you know."
Each Feed the Hood event costs about $15,000 and is funded solely by community donations. Elder says her dream is to expand into other cities where there is a need.
"To serve the people, that is my passion," said Elder. "It gives me hope, that there are so many people in Oakland that want to make a difference."
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