Every year, beginning on Thanksgiving Day and continuing through December, my local newspaper, The Mercury News, publishes a series of stories called “Wish Book,” with poignant stories and photos of individuals, families, and nonprofit organizations who need help. The purpose is to inspire readers to make donations for items such as therapeutic equipment for children with autism, computers to help homeless people look for jobs and housing, holiday gifts for children in foster care, and so much more.
Each year, I read these stories — sometimes with tears in my eyes — and then make a donation. This year I was touched by the story of the Women’s Gathering Place in San Jose, California and made a donation on behalf of the GaGa Sisterhood. The center provides homeless, at-risk women a break from their daily struggles. The San Jose drop-in center not only offers the women a hearty meal during the afternoon, but it also gives them a place to talk, gather clothing and toiletries, take a shower and do laundry at no cost.
The story resonated with me for two reasons: most of the women who come to the center are 55 and could possibly be grandmothers; and I understand and appreciate the value of women gathering to support each other. For 13 years, the GaGa Sisterhood has provided a community for grandmas to come together to talk about both the joys and challenges we face. Although we do not face anything close to the challenges these women face, we all find comfort in being able to share our stories with each other.
At the center, the women tell somber tales of battling drug addiction, cancer, mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness and even rape. One recent day, a group of more than 35 women gathered in a circle, held hands and said a prayer before volunteers started serving them spaghetti, salad and bread. Just as they might enjoy a book club, women come to the center for a sense of community and to share their stories. The average age of women who use the center is 55, and the center serves about 25 to 40 women a day.
Women’s Gathering Place co-founder Eileen Hunter said she teamed up with Pastor Sharon Hare to start the center in 2014 after working with homeless people and talking to an elderly woman who had severe osteoporosis and was sleeping on the bus in the morning.
Outside the center, Dignity on Wheels provides a place for the women to take a shower and do laundry. Inside, at the center’s Ooh La La Boutique, women gather clothing, bras, and toiletries to take with them in what resembles a vintage store.
Currently, the center is open three days a week, but they want to do more to help these women find jobs and housing or provide them with services during an emergency. Donations can help the women with emergency funds, emergency backpacks, and to help fund a computer lab.
I plan to visit the Women’s Gathering Place in 2017 and find out how our GaGa Sisterhood members can offer some help to these women.