Jordan Storment has a unique vantage point atop the wall that separates Shasta County’s homeless from its wealthier residents. College-educated, with an apartment and full-time job, he understands how easy it is to label those without a roof, degree or employment. He knows what it’s like to feel guilt or sadness, or anger, when confronted with cardboard signs asking for handouts at intersections throughout town.
But as program coordinator at a Redding day center for the homeless, he has gotten to know dozens of individuals who live on the streets – and that has transformed his thinking.
“When you spend time with them, you realize that many are beautiful, hardworking, wonderful people,” he said. “I’m amazed by their strength.”
During the three-and-a-half years Storment, 26, has worked at Living Hope Compassion Ministries, he’s grown more passionate about trying to bridge the gap between the homeless and those who aren’t. The most recent – and by far the most mouth-watering – result of his and Living Hope president Michael Mojarro’s brainstorming is The Shack, a once-a-month restaurant that employs a handful of homeless citizens and serves tasty, sizable meals to the public.
For $10, patrons are served a sit-down meal and beverage in a colorful two-room dining area inside Living Hope’s building on the corner of State and Favretto streets, south of Parkview Avenue.
The Shack (not to be confused with the former downtown Redding diner by the same name) is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the third Sunday of each month. Mojarro and Storment, who almost went to culinary school, spend time crafting each month’s menu.
“Our thing is fresh, local, and sustainable,” Mojarro said. “We grow a lot of our own vegetables.”
During January’s lunch, an ample group of senior citizens, twentysomethings and young families filled the building with laughter and chatter. Two workers greeted patrons outside, directing them to the door and collecting payment. A friendly staff, nicely dressed, took drink orders and offered diners a choice of tomato bisque or creamy potato leek soup. Only one meal on the menu keeps orders simple: that day it was meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, and fresh vegetables. The meals were served in a round aluminum plate, ideal for transporting leftovers.
Past meals have included Mojarro’s grandmother’s enchiladas, with tortillas made from scratch; chicken in a white chardonnay sauce, with wild rice and fresh vegetables; and thin-crust pizzas with a variety of fresh meat and vegetarian toppings. The pizzas prompted a letter to the editor in the Redding Record Searchlight: “It was actually better than what we had eaten in Italy,” wrote Nancy McMullen of Redding.
Many diners are surprised to learn that some of their waiters are homeless, Storment said. (The Shack’s staff is a mixture of employees and volunteers.)
“It gives them a chance to put a face and a name to homelessness,” he said.
After January’s lunch rush slowed, waiter Troy Modique (pronounced mod-i-CUE) grinned widely as he sat down to chat for a few minutes. Modique, 46, came to Redding from Merced County last year. He said he moved into a motel but got kicked out because he couldn’t keep up with payments. So he started camping while he continued his search for employment. One day, as he was walking in the South Market Street area, he saw people lining up outside Living Hope’s building. He learned they were going inside to eat and that anyone was welcome.
With the help of about 100 volunteers, Living Hope serves breakfast and lunch to unemployed clients Monday through Friday – some 9,000 meals a month, Mojarro said. It also provides a day shelter, food bank, showers, clothing, laundry, counseling, bike shop and other services – all free. (The nonprofit organization relies almost completely on donations; The Shack’s operations are also partially funded by a grant.)
“The minute I walked in, I was hooked,” Modique said. “It was free food every day. As I kept coming in, I started getting to know people. They’re my family.”
It’s a bond he feels strongly. As the “brothers and sisters” at Living Hope got to know him, they asked if he wanted to work at The Shack, he said. The restaurant opened in May.
Modique still camps each night (“God is taking care of me,” he said).
He was able to get enough money for a motorized scooter, which he uses to visit places of possible employment.
However, “no matter what other jobs I do, I’ll keep this one,” he said. “This is my family.”
Mojarro and Storment each had ideas about opening an off-site restaurant to employ and aid the homeless and pursued steps on their own before they shared those dreams with each other one night.
“We realized, hey, we have a commercial kitchen, a facility, and we’re already licensed like any other restaurant,” Mojarro said. “We thought, yeah, we should do this.”
Things started falling into place. As they were working on a business proposal, trying to figure out how to train workers, a woman walked in the door from UC Davis. She told them she had a grant for food handling and safety. “We handed her the business proposal right there,” Mojarro said.
In March, the Redding Rancheria Community Fund selected Living Hope as the recipient of a $10,000 prize – with no strings attached – for its work with homeless and low-income residents.
“That was our startup money,” Mojarro said.
Storment said he would love for The Shack to have its own facility and be open more frequently. “The whole intention is creating jobs for the homeless,” he said.
He noted the grim unemployment rate in Shasta County, recorded at 16 percent in December. One of his college-graduate friends has been out of work for 18 of the last 24 months in Redding, he said.
“The reality is the people here (clients at Living Hope) are competing for the same service-industry jobs as college students,” Storment said. “And some of our folks have criminal backgrounds, so why would an employer choose them?”
Drunken panhandlers on street corners have become the “face of homelessness” in the community, he said. Out of the hundreds of people he’s met through the shelter, he estimates that fewer than 5 percent hold signs. Stereotypes often break when individuals get a chance to interact, he said. It happened to him.
“People who come to volunteer here often have the mindset that they can bless those who are less fortunate,” he said. “But I tell them, be prepared for the homeless to bless you.”
The next meal at The Shack will be Feb. 20. On the menu is more of Mojarro’s grandmother’s cuisine: chili verde, carnitas, meat and vegetarian tacos, and about 10 different kinds of salsa, among other dishes.
“This will be more of an all-you-can-eat setup,” Mojarro said.
Learn more about the restaurant and Living Hope’s other services at www.livinghoperedding.com. Mojarro is also active in the newly formed Redding Safe Camp Homeless Alliance, about which A News Café wrote last month.
Candace L. Brown has been a magazine and newspaper reporter since 1992. She lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Photos by Amy Schulze
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.