Friday, February 5, 2010

Save a Fish, Save a Person

From Footsteps, the monthly publication of the Juniperro Serra chapter of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO), with thanks to the editor and the Garcias for permission to re-publish:

Save a fish; save a person. That’s what Herman Garcia, founder and President of the nonprofit organization, Coastal Habitat Education & Environmental Restoration (CHEER) in Gilroy, California is doing. Herman, brother of our own Benny Garcia, is a local businessman in Gilroy and an avid outdoorsman. He saw a need to save the steelhead trout in the 1300 square mile Pajaro River Watershed, an area encompassing Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, so set about to do something. In 1997, Coastal California Steelhead were listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Because their freshwater habitat is disappearing, the steelhead population in Central California has fallen dramatically. Their numbers are an indicator of the overall health of the watershed, the quality of the water we consume, and the environmental health of Monterey Bay.

But this story is more than about saving fish and preserving the watershed; it’s also about saving people. As part of CHEER’s work, volunteers rescue steelhead from May through October. The remainder of the year they work to restore the streams and creeks where the fish spawn. This restoration includes a large amount of trash removal. Much of this trash, CHEER discovered, was left by a large population of homeless individuals who camp in the watershed.

Instead of looking for ways to eliminate the homeless camps along the creeks and streams, CHEER found a better solution—they engaged and empowered the homeless to be a solution to the problem instead of a cause. Herman believes that the homeless situation in the watershed is a social, political, environmental and public safety issue. Such a multi-dimensional problem requires out-of-the box thinking. So, three to four times a year, Herman and his CHEER volunteers trek into the backcountry of the watershed with food and provisions for the homeless. They provide each homeless volunteer with a hot meal and two weeks of food. In addition each person receives a pair of work gloves, long handled grippers for picking up trash, a supply of garbage bags, and a dose of education about how to care for and restore the habitat. The homeless volunteers later meet with Herman at a designated pickup area where they turn in the full garbage bags in exchange for another two weeks of food provisions. The number of homeless volunteers has grown from 12 to over 70 in just the past six months, taxing the resources of this infant organization to provide the food needed for their mission. Currently all food is purchased with money donated by CHEER volunteers.

CHEER is in need of what Herman calls “car food.” That is food that requires neither refrigeration nor heating. He suggests canned foods such as meats, fruits and beans with pop tops only; peanut butter and jelly; crackers and tortillas. In addition, the homeless have a great need for blankets, sleeping bags and jackets. CHEER will also gladly accept monetary donations to purchase food. CHEER is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so all donations are tax deductible. Donations may be earmarked for the homeless project.

PO Box 1735
Gilroy, CA 95020

Dorothy Day once said, “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.” Herman Garcia has started a revolution of the heart in the backcountry of the Pajaro River Watershed. Our father Francis would be pleased.

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