Largest East Bay service program turns 40


In the 1960s, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley's People's Park were at the epicenter of a counter culture movement that attracted young people from all over.

Dale Edmonson was a minister back then and in touch with other clergy in Berkeley. One church began to feed the newcomers and hundreds a night.

By 1970, a full-fledged program was underway after churches of all denominations convinced parishioners to volunteer.

"There were some who didn't quite understand it and didn't feel that what the church should be about. Fortunately that was a minority, but that was the case," Edmonson said.

Times have changed and so has the program. It's now known as the Berkeley Food and Housing Project -- the largest provider of homeless services in the East Bay.

"It evolved from a feeding ministry into a program now that does not only provide meals to people in Berkeley, but transitions the homeless and back into permanent housing," Paul Cwynar from Berkeley Food and Housing Project said.

Aldren Mayfield is typical of the clients these days -- male, minority and middle aged.

"I was spending my money on gambling, going to high stakes bingo, trying to hit a big jackpot," he said.

He was sleeping in shelters but since connecting with the program, Mayfield has been living in his own apartment for the past 10 years. The turnaround came when he decided to let case workers handle his veteran's benefits.

"I chose for them to manage my money," he said.

Money management is just one of their services. Some would say miracle-making is another.

"So here we are because of this project and I really appreciate it," Larry Hawkins said.

The project has four sites: the multipurpose center, a men's shelter, permanent supportive housing for clients with mental health issues and a shelter with transitional housing for women.

About 24 four single women plus three moms and their kids live at the shelter and they have access to meals, healthcare and counseling.

The non-profit operates on a $3 million annual budget of federal, state and local money.

And then there's the kindness of community volunteers, like employees from the Bayer Company. They've found it rewarding to spruce up the shelters for the past few years.

"Just the appreciation they have for the work that we've done and the way the place looks," said Dave Allison from Bayer.

Over four decades the program has fed thousands and found shelter for thousands more and 500 have been permanently housed in the past three years. This year there will be a celebration to reflect on that history and a rededication to moving forward.

ABC7 salutes the Berkeley Food and Housing Project for 40 years of service and dedication.

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