By AMANDA STARRANTINO
CONCORD, California (KPIX) — A local grassroots effort by a few women in Concord are doing what they can to help by providing food and water every single day to their neighbors without a place to call home.
Kelly McKinley and her fellow volunteers cook dinner for at least 30 people six days a week.
“All we are trying to do is spread kindness with no judgment and it’s really working,” says McKinley, the founder of the non-profit GROW Concord.
The number of unhoused people in Contra Costa County has increased since 2020, according to the new official Point in Time count. It has gone up 4% and in Concord alone, the county’s most recent homeless population count showed a jump from 160 people in 2020 to 241 this year.
McKinley has personally never experienced homelessness but her heart has a calling to help her neighbors in the small way she can.
“I would be able to feed 12 people,” explains McKinley. “And then I found out I could feed the same amount of people sandwiches as well for five dollars. So then it slowly started getting bigger. But all this food today was completely donated.”
The project started a year and a half ago as an effort to use perfectly good food that McKinley saw was going to waste. She planted her idea by sharing what she was doing on neighborhood social media pages. Other Concord residents responded to her post and now together, they created the non-profit which stands for “Grass Roots Outreach Warriors.”
“It’s just a lot of women getting out there and doing what we can,” says McKinley.
It takes a village, just for one dinner, which McKinley cooks with donations she got the same day. Other volunteers drop off dishes they also made that day. Then, she picks up dishes from other volunteers’ homes before heading to the park to serve.
One of her volunteers has been cooking for GROW since its inception.
“I’m motivated to do this every week because I can,” said Concord resident Lauren Kirby. “And because I see what is going on in the world. And I just feel like if you can make a little bit of a difference then why don’t you? And then my kids see it and they talk about it.”
All of these small gestures from so many different people are making a big impact.
“I wouldn’t have dinner,” says Angela, an unhoused resident who explained what would happen if GROW was not serving.
Another unhoused resident, Ace, has come to know McKinley and her team over the past year.
“I kinda rely on GROW, they give me to-go bags, they do it for everyone,” he explained. “And I know them, they are really cool people, but my God, they really got my bag in all of this. Because without an EBT card, you got no food.”
It is not just food at McKinley’s dinners. On the menu for whoever shows up: a hot meal, drinks, food for the next day, hygiene items, plus food and supplies for pets.
“They are thankful and I don’t judge if they are having a bad day or whatever they are doing in their life,” said McKinley. “And if they don’t want it, that’s fine, we have food and water. People think I am here because they want to. But also it is a community that they are building friendships.”
McKinnley and the GROW team provide these strangers who are often left alone with the simple gift of being able to gather together around a shared meal.
McKinnley runs GROW with her co-founder, Andie Altman. GROW serves at Baldwin Park and Cowell Park in Concord. The non-profit also provided hotel rooms for shelter during past heat waves and atmospheric river storms. They also provide weekly showers and laundry cards for those who attend their park dinners.
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