Thursday, April 27, 2017
INTERVIEW Eva Suzanne Fiorello
Eva has long had a passion for reaching out and helping others. She’s been working for some time now on feeding the hungry in the Tower District. I reached out to her to talk about her passions, her own struggles and how we can all give back to the community. You can find her group on Facebook… Hungry Hearts
Tell us how you originally got involved in feeding those in need in the community. Many of us get involved in very particular ways in the community. Why do you feel so passionately about this specific effort?
I've been involved in trying to help for most of my life in some capacity, but a few years ago a person put out a call for feeding the homeless here in Fresno on the tower page. I had been laid off at my job with the county and thought, yes let's do it. I was working for Kings view housing and recovery, a program to house homeless and the mentally ill, we did not have enough funding so a few of us were let go. I jumped into this with another individual and from there we went three years strong meeting at Ventura and G St. Feeding and clothing the homeless. Bringing dog food, feminine hygiene, toothpaste, deodorant etc.
The group was doing well and we had many people come to help. Unfortunately because I didn't vote for Trump and the other person I started this with did he banned me and my friends from the group...So I started a new one. Hungry Hearts on Facebook. Please join.
Tell us about the cross range of people you see who need help with food? Is it just the very poor or is it just people who can’t make ends meet?
In general the people we see are out on the streets. They are homeless and don't have much. They can get some help with Poverello house and the mission but my feeling is that they can always use a meal. The people that we help are usually very gracious. They bless us and thank us profusely. We do have the mentally ill out there and once in a while somebody gets a little upset about something but never any violence.
What is a particularly touching experience you’ve had in your efforts to feed the hungry?
I have had quite a few touching experiences over my 45 years plus out on the streets, one in particular comes to mind. A young man who looked like a school student, back pack and everything came to our food line. He was clean cut, well-spoken and very shy. I asked him if there was anything else I could help him with and took him to the side. He explained that his mother had been killed by his father and his father was serving life in prison. He was from another state and was having a hard time receiving benefits here but did have enough money saved up to attend Fresno City College. He held a part time job at a fast food restaurant where no one knew his circumstances. He was 19 years old.
I made some phone calls and gave him some phone numbers and some money. I had a few friends willing to help this young man out. He is still at FCC and he now has a place to live.
You’ve focused your efforts on the Tower District. What is it about this area of town that motivates you so much?
I was living in the tower at the time for over 10 years. I saw the homeless day after day wandering the streets and begging for food, for money. I help those who are in need if I can. The tower is a small NYC to me. Very diversified in its people so I felt comfortable being there, among my people so to speak.
Do you find that people tend to only focus on those who are hungry during the holidays when this is obviously a day to day problem?
I find that during the holidays there are many people willing to help. I get most of the donations during that time. In general I feel most people feel kinder during the holidays and want to do something, and they do. We had over 200 people served a Thanksgiving meal and a Christmas meal last year and the years prior it was pretty much the same. I don't think that people don't want to help at other times I just believe that it's hard for people to believe that this is an everyday problem that exists in our community, and in our country. I know people that donate their resources and drop off clothing, food etc. but don't have the heart to come out because they feel like they should be doing more. I applaud these people because they are my friends and I understand just how they feel. I couldn't do this financially on my own.
What are some of the best resources in Fresno for those who need help feeding themselves and their families?
In this community we do have resources for some. We have the Poverello house, the Mission ,and Catholic charities. We have a group on line called blessings from the heart ministries that give away free food and clothing, diapers etc.
When people ask I direct them to Gay Central Valley or Trans-e-motion or Poverello, depending on their needs. I don't only do work with the homeless. I go out to the assisted living homes when I can and bring flowers or socks. I counsel gay and trans people if they need my help. I'm kind of on my own here when it comes to those things and I try to engage others into helping when I can.
Where can people find you online? How do they reach you if they want to help?
Come on out once a month and help, it takes about an hour and if you can't come out just join the group on Facebook and be supportive. These people need us, they need you. My group doesn't ask for money. We just want what you can't use. I will pick up or you can drop off. Anything you are not using our food you can share will help.
I happen to know that you have a long history of helping others and of being involved in the community, going back many years. Can you talk a little about how it all started and progressed for you?
My mother was a community health nurse and eventually became a Dr. of nursing and was a professor at Fresno state. I grew up in NYC, my family was middle class as my father worked when he felt like it. When I was 12 my best friend and I took the subway down to Greenwich village on a day we heard there would be riots and protests against gays and transgender people. So I went and I witnessed the most horrible atrocities against people who were just trying to live their lives.
There was a moment when I saw a police officer beat a young man in the head because he was screaming" let us be who we are" he was not being violent he was just angry and voicing how he felt. I decided then that I was raised in a family that accepted others for who they were as human beings, and I would fight any one who would dare to hurt or humiliate anyone who was “different".
I went on in my life moving to California when I was 19. My mom ran a project in NYC called the friendship house. It welcomed the mentally ill and the homeless. I went to work with her every day and realized how mistreated and how stigmatized people were in this position. I learned a lot from those experiences and brought them with me to California.
Around the same time I was noticing some things about myself, terrible mood swings, the ability to stay awake for days and then a terrible crash into oblivion. I had no idea what was happening to me. I continued for many years making terrible life decisions and not realizing that I had a mental illness. I finally was diagnosed in my 30s and after years of craziness got on meds.
The story is long, the story of my life has many curves and pitfalls but I've always been drawn to the damaged souls. The ones who cry out and no one hears them. My wrists display the many times I thought I shouldn't be here. They now display the semi colon because my story isn't over. Those people who are homeless wear a semi colon too. They took a wrong turn, they have no home, they are our brothers and our sisters, our mothers and fathers and sometimes our children.