Monday, January 21, 2013

San Pedro Mom Collects Surplus Goods For the Needy

By Diana L. Chapman

   The teacher at a Wilmington Elementary School kept the two boys behind at recess. Why, the fourth grade teacher asked, were they fighting -- a little tip he'd received. The boys shuffled about until the true confessions flowed out from the smaller student.
   The larger boy, he admitted, was bullying him -- about  his shoes. One of his sneaker's soles gaped open like a shark's mouth.  
     I had just finished up a volunteer writing workshop in that class and my head hurt that a kid was hassled over his sneakers making me think of a friend Jennifer Marquez; She mentioned recently that she had snagged a big score for the non-profit where she works.  It was 150 pairs of shoes. Shoes for needy kids.
   Before stumbling into the bullying incident, I called Jennifer to do a story about her unique job.  She collects gifts-in-kind for Shelter Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to resolving the crises of homelessness that serves 51,000 homeless in Los Angeles County and collaborates with 200 other agencies.
   But now I was calling her to see if she had extra shoes for the Wilmington student. Because of her efforts, Payless Shoes awarded Shelter Partnerships 150, $20 vouchers to shoe the feet of needy children for a third year in a row. Half were slotted for San Pedro children; the other half will be donated near the end of the month through the Union Rescue Mission.
   It was a generous offer Payless does nationwide each year.  Despite that it's much smaller than the case and palette loads that roll into non-profit,  the donation is considered just as precious.
   Often homeless children get shoes, but never have the chance to select them.
    "This is a fantastic donation because the kids from the shelters get to pick them. They get to try them on," Jennifer explained. "Otherwise, they get shoes that don't fit or they are not the right style. The fact the kids are able pick out and try on their own shoes is really exciting."
   When I told Jennifer about the student, I could hear her heart melt over the phone. Her voice softened and stirred with compassion.
   She could set aside shoe vouchers for the boy and two siblings, but the parents must call the collaborating agency, the YWCA Harbor Area , to register. Sometimes, she added, parents won't call. Sometimes, they are too proud, ashamed, scared or shy.
   I passed the information to the teacher and waited.
Jennifer Marquez thrilled to collect surplus goods

      On any given day, when Jennifer's phone rings, she might hear on the other end that a business wants to donate 4,000 diapers. Or maybe there's thousands of rolls of toilet paper or 50 cases of shampoo or hundreds of cases of soap --  all at the top of the list as necessities for the homeless. Perhaps  a shipment of toys comes in or stacks of unused clothes.  Jennifer's job is to solicit donations and she frequently arranges the trucks to pick up the goods and ensure the companies receive good service.

    "Every day is different and I'm motivated to get items that might end up in landfills. I'm  frequently having trucks do pick-ups," she says. "We'll have anything from brand new apparel, arts and crafts to 2,000 toys coming in from Mattel. We are the number one recipient of Hasbro in the state of California.
   "I try to give them the Cadillac treatment."  
   Having worked for homeless-related non-profits for 20 years doing fundraising and grant writing, it wasn't until she landed the gifts-in-kind job seven years ago for Shelter Partnership that she really found her niche.
    Simply put, her job is to stuff a 108,000 square foot warehouse in Bell with donated brand new goods needed by the homeless -- anything new can be collected including underwear and socks.
   The largest donation Shelter Partnerships ever received was 16 semi trucks full of toothbrushes. The oddest: cellulite cream and disposable spa underwear, she said.
   On occasion, the non-profit will also receive counterfeit items after U.S. Customs seized them from ships in the Port of Los Angeles.
   While some businesses want the confiscated articles destroyed, others have turned them over to the agency. That's how hundreds of little girls were able to receive counterfeit Dora backpacks and some homeless received new Mercedes polo shirts.
    To obtain those donations, the agency agreed to have volunteers and employees cut out every label, Jennifer explained. Because the non-profit guarantees that the collected goods will not be sold, pickups of surplus donations have attracted the likes of Disney, Hasbro and Mattel Inc.
   Since she was young, Jennifer has been concerned about other's plights. First, the Girl Scouts made her aware of them. She learned more later when she volunteered to work with adults in the later stages of HIV and critically ill children.
   She has a powerful drive to helping those in poverty -- especially kids -- who suffer from things like parents using newspapers as diapers.
    "What happens is when people lose their jobs  or are facing poverty, they don't have money for essentials, said the San Pedro mother of two boys, 7 and 9. "They are choosing between food or shoes for their children. The kids in the shelters, they want to blend in. Children don't choose the situation.
   "They don't chose their parents. They don't want to be the kids with the holes in their shoes. They are innocent victims of poverty."
   Shelter Partnership's doors are open to businesses and manufacturers that want to donate surplus  instead of dumping them in a landfill. Then the non-profit disseminates them to shelter agencies that need the supplies.
    Top of the list of  the non-profits  needs -- and all must be new --  are hygienic products: diapers, soaps, toothpaste, shampoos, toilet paper, toothbrushes, hair brushes, and combs. In addition, new clothes, toys, bedding, crayons, pencils, papers, notebooks, and other products can be easily donated. Jennifer says she tends to work with shipments coming in by the caseload and pallet.
   While most items are new, there are exceptions such as when the television show Scrubs was scrubbed. The program offered all the show's apparel, some of which had never been worn and others that had seen little use.
    She took all of it. The scrubs then worked their way into homeless shelters as clothes as will the Payless shoes
Jasmine's old sneakers.
    In early January, Jennifer and the collaborating YWCA of the Harbor Area, helped kids try on brand new shoes at a San Pedro Payless along with their parents and siblings. It was chaotic, with shoe boxes littering the floors, and mothers hugging the non-profit employees with sheer gratitude.
   Brian, 7, of San Pedro was delighted to get new footwear.
   "They are light and easy to walk in and good because it was getting colder," Brian said.
    When the parents of Jasmine, 2, took her new shoes off and put her old shoes on, the toddler cried profusely and didn't stop until her new shoes went back on.   
   The mother of Jordan, 8, and Joceyln, 3, who came from Hawthorne but are YWCA clients, was thrilled, "because there are no programs like this in our area."
     "Many of the children we selected for the free shoes were not chosen for our
holiday adopt a family program," explained Rosa Martin, Administrative Coordinator, 
YWCA of the Harbor Area. "These families have needs all year not just at the holidays 
and are trying hard to support their families."
    For the rest of us, who may not be touched by homelessness, Jennifer adds, "there is 
hidden poverty everywhere."
    At her children's school, there were two children that were homeless last year, 
one was living out of a car. Both are now in better situations. This year, she adopted 
an elderly woman for Christmas who asked for small gifts, a blanket, a sweater and 
a scarf.
   "You just don't know who's walking down the street who's not going to eat dinner tonight," she said.
   Or who might have to go shoeless.
   At the end of January, another 75 children from Los Angeles, in collaboration with the
 Union Rescue Mission, will receive their shoes.
    But as Jennifer warned me, I am sad to say the Wilmington boy's parents never called.

   For more information about Shelter Partnership, visit Diana can be reached at

Thursday, January 17, 2013

College Student Writes Poem About Newtown Massacre

Dear Readers: 

 When Emmanuel Catalan, 23, heard about the shootings of 26 first graders and educators in Connecticut, the Floridian was stunned along with everyone else. But when his friends who lived in the impacted state began to call and text him, he detected pain so enmeshed in them that he was even more shaken. The two women, who live in nearby Storrs, hadn't  lost anyone in the tragedy, but were agonizing over it with millions of others.

   From their words, Emmanuel built a poem, perhaps to ease his pain and hopefully theirs.

   "The Connecticut shooting was one of the worst shooting tragedies since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007," he wrote me via Facebook. "Although I have not personally been affected by this event, I do have two friends who reside in Connecticut. Both of them are emotionally shaken up because of the horror. Hopefully something positive can come out of this awful event. 
   "We can no longer endure another mass shooting the way."
   Catalan, now 23, joined the Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro as a high school  junior carrying only a 1.8 GPA. Once he entered the club's College Bound program, is life turned around.

    Today he's in his senior year at the University of South Florida, majoring in political science with a minor in international studies. He plans to attend law school to first become a lawyer and later a judge as well as an author. He has done many internships, including the Sindhi American Political Action Committee, the Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition, and the Empowering Center for Career Development.

 Here is his poem that comes with no name:

The sky covered with clouds looms over our heads,
The ominous storm awaits us ready to rip our joy into shreds,
None of us are remotely prepared for its presence,
Nevertheless it arrives with power far greater than all of the heavens.

The depth of his rage is beyond anyone's measure
And no one has enough to subdue him with their treasure,
Our conduct too depraved for his taste,
So he kills us with loss and disgrace.

He places us back in our own solitude,
So dark and uncertain, no way to be shrewd,
How can we? Our souls were stolen by his murderous deeds.
No incentive to live or plant our own seeds.

I bleed red, but feel no more pain,
A full days rest I've had, and yet I feel drained,
Consumed with so much death I want to cringe,
So much potential now just blows in the wind.

The future lays buried riddled with talons,
Each symbolizing a lost chance for them to show their talents,
Trauma remains with those who remain,
The broken-hearted and those left with so much pain.

Each showering their faces with rain,
Yet there remains nothing to gain.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Children Who've Died of Cancer Should be Honored

Mary Lou Martinez, holding a photo of her granddaughter, Devin, wants to create a memorial for Harbor Area children who have died from cancer while living in the industrial Port of Los Angeles.
San Pedro Grandma Decides Kids Who Have Died Here of Cancer Related Illnesses Deserve A Shot At Being Remembered Through A Memorial or Festival; She Just Needs Your Help

By Diana L. Chapman
Devin Hamilton died at the age of 9.

After three years of visiting her 9-year-old granddaughter at her grave, Mary Lou Martinez thought  both of them deserved a better deal. They should be celebrating Devin Hamilton's life with the punctuations of joy she left in people's hearts.

Not in silence. Or in somberness.

That's when it hit. It seemed to Martinez that so many children -- who live in San Pedro tucked along the highly industrialized port of Los Angeles -- had their lives cut short by varying kinds of cancer and that people were forgetting them much too soon. And when they did remember them it was sadness. Not with joy.

She wants to build a way for the community to celebrate those children, she said, and, with the backing of Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino's office, she needs other community members to help her design the "how."

"I just didn't want to visit Devin in the cemetery for the rest of my life," said Martinez, who decorates the grave each holiday. "I just have this vision of some place near the ocean, a great place with a plaque, a place to meet. The sad part is that they died. But the beautiful part is that they lived. And that they were great kids who were loved and are missed."

Diagnosed with leukemia in Aug. 2009, Devin lived less than a year, dying Jan. 26 2010. One of her classmates at Crestwood Street Elementary School, Leo Russo, died in September the same year from Hodgkin's mature b cell lymphoma.
While many  other children have succumbed to cancer related illnesses here, Martinez believes practically everybody in the tight-knit community of San Pedro-- many coming from generations of immigrant families-- knows a family who has lost a child to cancer.  That has brought her on her mission today; she is asking for about six San Pedro residents to step forward and help her create her vision.

"I don't have anything set in stone," admits the grandmother, who babysat Devin daily until she enrolled in preschool age 2. "I want to get input from other people. I have to do it. It's been gnawing at me.

"I feel in my heart, it's going to happen and  it will be great."

It was, in fact, the council office that suggested forming the group when she walked in to tell the staff what she wanted to create. The suggestion: form a six member committee to shape a memorial/festival to honor those children. While the idea is still unclear, the grandmother wants the committee to help her mold  what the memorial -- if in fact it should be a memorial at all -- should be.

 Ideas that have been tossed around so far includes a tree of life that could represent the children, a symbolic statue possibly an angel, a yearly festival, a run, or a combination of all the things above -- or something else entirely different.

The only issue set in stone is that it should be for children, Martinez said.

Jacob Haik, district director for Buscaino's region which covers the entire harbor area and portions of South Los Angeles, said he will support Martinez in any way possible and that a representative from the council office will sit on the committee. Haik said he will attend the first meeting.

 The subject, he said, is close to his heart as his 12-year-old daughter, Crystal is close friends with Blake Marquez. Blake lost her little sister, Paige, 4, to a brain tumor and her parents, Cheryl and Tim Marquez, built a foundation in Paige's memory to help other children afflicted with cancer -- and in particular with brain tumors. Haik also has four of his own children.

"I have talked to her (Martinez) two or three times," Haik said. "We will meet with her and support her absolutely. If I can be so bold, I suggested the committee because we are not event planners. But we can give support with events, tables, chairs. I do see the good it will bring."

Devin's mother, Lori Hamiliton, believes her mom is on the right track with her vision, and hopes the community will help out.

"I do of course think this is a great idea," said Devin's mother. "All the families who have children die are still going through their mourning and to feel we have a community that backs us and cares by supporting this idea is wonderful."

Over the years, studies have been done that children do suffer higher asthma rates and that cancer rates overall are higher living near the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach complex. A University of Southern California study reflects that ship emissions "contributed to the exacerbation of asthma," USC News reported in 2009.

In 2001, the National Resources Defense Council sued the city and the Port of Los Angeles using environmental laws claiming port emissions from diesel trains, ships and trucks caused premature deaths, cancer, asthma and upper respiratory illnesses via smog and particulate matters. The result was a $50 million mitigation fund to improve air quality at the world's largest port.

"Despite this victory, however, more work needs to be done," the NRDC reported on its website. "The cancer risk from diesel pollution is 60 percent higher from communities close to the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach than elsewhere in the region, and has steadily increased over the years, while pollution in other areas has dropped."

Since then, the Los Angeles port has undergone  many mitigation measures, including its Clean Trucks Programs  which works progressively to ban polluting trucks from entering the port.

While that battle goes on, Martinez believes San Pedro resident should embrace the lives that have been lost.

"San Pedro is a unique town, a lot like Catalina Island in the way it has familiarized its residents with one another, however, larger than the island," she said. "But as a small community, we know each other and we know the pain of loss, especially the loss of a child.

" How can we not come together as a community and remember and honor our sweet, sweet angels who left us all too soon?"

Anyone interested in serving on the committee can contact Martinez via email: