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Interfaith ‘Harmony Walk’ raises funds to fight hunger, homelessness

on October 28, 2019

Richmonders of various faiths gathered in Nicholl Park early Saturday morning for the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program’s (GRIP) 33rd annual Harmony Walk. The 5K walk/run raises funds to fight homelessness and hunger in the greater Richmond area.

GRIP, an organization that has been around for over 50 years, has dedicated itself to helping those in need. The center provides food and resources for individuals and families at risk for, or currently enduring, homelessness. 

Faith groups including Temple Beth Hillel, St. Peter CME Church, and Easter Hill United Methodist Church came to participate in the walk. The Reentry Success Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Bay Area Rescue Mission were among some of the organizations that had tents set up to support the event. Chevron, one of the walk’s major sponsors, also had a tent set up, where representatives handed out candy as part of an early Halloween treat. 

GRIP Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan speaking at the 33rd Annual Harmony Walk.

Kathleen Sullivan, the executive director of GRIP, addressed the crowd about the organization’s continued fight to end homelessness.  “This march is about eliminat[ing] the need to feed people and to house people in shelters. To eliminate hunger and homelessness forever.” Sullivan, who took charge of GRIP back in 2017, stated that she’s proud of the organization’s accomplishments over the years.

“I’m most proud of the fact that [GRIP is] using innovative strategies,” she told Richmond Confidential. “That we have added mental health services and that we have a plan to start exploring being a new housing developer ourselves. That’s the real solution. We need more places for people to live.”

A 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report  from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) showed that California had the highest homeless population in the nation. Earlier this year, a report showed a 43% increase in homeless in Contra Costa County since  2017. 

County Supervisor John Gioia with Eddie Morris (NAMI) and Timothy Walker from Easter Hill United Methodist Church.

“We know that it is unacceptable in the United States of America to have people sleeping on the streets,” Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia told the crowd before the walk began. In a statement to Richmond Confidential, he said he appreciated the community coming together at events like the Harmony Walk to help tackle homelessness. “To me, it’s the energy of people working together,” he said. “The walking is great, but it’s all part of that whole energy and interaction between people.”

Participants warm up before walk.

Mayor Tom Butt said that events like the Harmony Walk raise awareness and bring people together. “You realize you’re not the only person working on these things. You look around you see hundreds of people working on the same project,” he said.

Participants of all ages gathered at the starting point on MacDonald Avenue to begin the walk.  Students from Manzanita Charter Middle School served as guides to direct them along the walking path. 

GRIP members Velma Smith, Michael Ballard Sr., and his wife Shanell Starks.

Among the Harmony Walk’s participants was Michael Ballard Sr. Formerly homeless, he said that GRIP helped him and his family get off the streets and find new housing.

“I completed the program, and I got a house and I got a job and everything,” he said. “Me and my son and my wife, we were there 14 months, and we just got our place the tenth of this month . . . GRIP did everything.”

 Ballard said that he will continue to support GRIP as they helped him during his time of need. “[GRIP is] a beautiful place. It’s a loving place,” he said. “[To] anybody that’s homeless, I would say, give them a try.”

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