Only a few years ago, Jon Shepherd never imagined he'd be sitting at Loaves & Fishes on Labor Day, thankful to have a meal.
But there he was on Monday, the onetime owner of a gutter installation business that hit the skids when the economy went south. He couldn't find a job. Then his car was history. Finally, so was his rental home.
He was one of the hundreds of homeless or near-homeless people who these days have a place to go for meals when they're hungry.
Monday was a special day because some 65 volunteers from 21 labor and community groups prepared and served the Labor Day barbecue to about 550 people. The fare included ribs or chicken, corn on the cob, side dishes and dessert.
This was not work, several participants said.
"This is volunteering," said Roy Ridley, a retired electrician waiting for the serving line to form.
For the last 20 years, Sacramento Central Labor Council/AFL-CIO, the United Way California Capital Region and elected officials have been part of the Labor Day Loaves & Fishes Working Families Volunteer Program in Friendship Park.
Of course, the labor groups were there when times were better for rank-and-file workers. Now that organized labor is under siege, the volunteers are still coming. Asked about the state of labor, they were likely to fret about the strife.
"It's a constant fight," said Rick Davis, business manager for Ironworkers Local 118. "It seems like we are always fighting to stand our ground."
But there was no fighting on Labor Day. Shepherd, along with others such as Ken "Porkchops" Mellon in his Jazzy electric wheelchair and Karen Alpaugh with her friend Robert Teague, found reasons to laugh and socialize.
Alpaugh, 67, said she exists on $839 a month in federal Supplemental Security Income. She figures she's better off than some. She is a Loaves & Fishes "client," a person in the computer system who can come for lunches.
"I have a roof over my head," she explained. But she doesn't have a kitchen or running water, she said. And she and others living in her stretch of Del Paso Heights must use a Porta Potty instead of an ordinary bathroom.
Still, she has an old Chevy truck that she uses sparingly. Once, she said, she worked for Aerojet General in the chemical plant. She injured herself in a car wreck when she was 32, she said, and that changed the course of her life.
Mellon, 54, said he is diabetic. He sat in his Jazzy wheelchair and hungrily chowed down on two ears of corn.
"I used to be homeless," he said. "About seven years ago, I got on my feet and got off the street.
"I come here for lunch because they have a good lunch, which helps me with my diet."
Mellon said he now has his own apartment after gradually shedding the homeless life. He was once fully independent and drove a truck hauling Dr Pepper and 7-Up.
Shepherd, the former business owner, said he wasn't homeless until about four years ago. Since then, he has been on the streets "off and on."
"It almost brings tears to your eyes," he said, still clearly struggling with where he has landed in life. "I never expected it. And I am really grateful for Loaves & Fishes."
Then his countenance grew strained, his eyes watered. "I will put my glasses on," he said, hiding his eyes.
Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073.
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