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Music brings warmth to the homeless

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It’s a wonderful feeling when doing something you love also helps someone else.

The Sacramento Women’s Chorus has found a way to combine their passion for singing with their commitment to improving the lives of women.

And Maryhouse, a daytime hospitality shelter for homeless women and children operated as part of the Loaves and Fishes organization serves plenty of women in need of a little help.

Each December, the Chorus hosts a holiday concert, featuring a variety of holiday music from many cultural traditions, a community singalong and reception, and an opportunity for audience members to donate items for Maryhouse.

“This year, the Maryhouse staff let us know that they had a serious need for sleeping bags, blankets, and quilts,” said Rita Birdsong, chair of SWC’s outreach efforts. With temperatures dipping into the 30s and 20s at night, sleeping outside is very uncomfortable and even dangerous for the women and their children.

The 2012 concert was titled “Holiday Quilt: a Patchwork of Seasonal Song”, and guests were asked to donate new or gently used clean sleeping bags and other warm coverings for the homeless women and families.

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Side view of inside of filled van.

The response was terrific, and this week several people from SWC delivered an entire van full of donations to Maryhouse. “Our audience and our singers were very generous,” said Jeanie Schultz, SWC board president.

The staff at Loaves and Fishes and Maryhouse agreed. Garren Bratcher on the loading dock dispatched a forklift with two huge crates to collect the donations, which were stacked to the cieling in Birdsong’s van.

Sister Libby Fernandez, Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes was wearing a cheerful set of elf ears beneath her jaunty hat, and she expressed her appreciation for the donation with twinkling eyes and good humor.

Alyssa Gerber, a staff member at Maryhouse, was on hand to receive the warm blankets, and she offered a tour of the Maryhouse operation. Noting that the center serves over a thousand homeless women and children each year, she cited the need for blankets, toiletries, toilet paper, towels, and diapers.

Alyssa Gerber and Garren Bratcher help unload the van and fill
two large containers.

She also discussed the Maryhouse “Undercover” campaign, which seeks donations of the things many women take for granted, but which can make a huge difference in the life of a homeless woman: clean new underwear, new or gently used bras, and maxipads and tampons. The chorus members had collected quite a load of these items and delivered them with the sleeping bags, because “every woman can relate to the need for those things,” as Schultz said.

Years past have seen “Sock It to the Holidays,” when chorus and audience members collected warm socks and shoes, and “Hats Off to the Holidays,” which gathered hundreds of hats, scarves, and gloves. The 2013 holiday effort will likely focus on providing towels, as each guest at Maryhouse is afforded the opportunity for a hot shower and clean clothes laundered on site.

Sister Libby Fernandez, with chorus members Kati Garner, Rita
Johnson, Mary Nares, Jean Schultz & staff Garren Bratcher.

For both the Maryhouse staff and the women of the Sacramento Women’s Chorus, the collaboration is a natural fit.

To learn more about Maryhouse, or to make a donation, please visit www.sacloaves.org/programs/maryhouse.

To learn more about the Sacramento Women’s Chorus, please visit sacramentowomenschorus.org.

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