This story is a follow up to ‘Josh’s heart was so strong,’ published on Oct. 6, which can be read here.
Don and Dawn Nahhas donned raincoats and loaded their car with backpacks on Saturday morning as they went on a mission to aid their community’s homeless people with the supplies they’ll need to withstand the coming winter months.
Don and Dawn, who both work on the Sacramento State campus, decided to embark on the project after their son Josh — who had been homeless himself — died of liver failure brought on by alcoholism in August. He was 32.
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The project was a joint effort between the couple and Providence Church Sacramento, which had been planning to help students at Hiram Johnson High School as part of its annual Season of Hope project.
Josh Bueno, pastor at Providence Church, said that he was surprised to learn that Hiram Johnson has a high population of homeless students.
“So we just asked ‘How can we help?’ and they told us that one of the greatest needs they had was backpacks with supplies for homeless students and backpacks with supplies to students that were in need of school supplies,” Bueno said.
So the Nahhas’s were joined by their church community, friends and family in putting together 115 “blessing bags” of essentials. The first 80 were given away at Hiram Johnson on Friday and the next 35 were slated to be distributed by Don and Dawn to the local homeless community.
“We got a couple rain ponchos and soap, bottled water, snacks, hand warmers, gloves, a beanie, socks — that’s one thing they definitely need, a blanket in some of them,” Don said. “For the women we actually put in a lot of feminine products because that’s another thing we were told by store managers. We had store managers tell us that they would come in the store and just open up a pack and steal a tampon or a pad because they needed it.”
Early Saturday, the Nahhas’s, Bueno and another member of their church named Aaron Swan set out to the area surrounding the Sacramento State campus to distribute the backpacks.
The first man the couple encountered was sitting on the concrete with a dog near a freeway overpass. Dawn said that the man was sitting exactly where she once found her son.
“I drove away from my son because he couldn’t stay at my house because of the addiction,” Dawn said. “It was nighttime, it was raining and he was laying here on the concrete just like that and I had to drive away, and that was like one of the worst memories I have.”
They asked the man, whose given name was James, to pray with them, and then they drove north where they gave a backpack to a woman named Elizabeth, who said that she has had a tough time getting in touch social services.
“I don’t fit anywhere because there’s nothing for a person like me,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who want to get off the street but just can’t. They’re good people.”
Elizabeth was given not just a backpack but also a new pair of shoes and a gift card to Subway.
A homeless man named Paul, who the Nahass’s gave a backpack too, said that he recognized Josh from a picture of him on the backpack.
“He cared about people, man. He was one of the better people out here; he had a big heart,” Paul said. “I knew he died, it didn’t hit me until right now, looking at his picture. We used to hang back here all the time. Nobody could whip Josh; they didn’t mess with him.”
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Don said that spending time with the homeless helped him and Dawn connect with their son in a new way.
“We felt connected to Josh through talking with the homeless, listening to their story, and especially the ones that knew Josh, and seeing their emotion about his passing,” Don said. “Hearing their stories made us more passionate about spreading the word that everyone has a story and needs our help and compassion.”
The Nahhas family plans to continue distributing blessing bags in memory of their son.
“Mainly this drive is for the winter and we’ll continue to do it. We’ll do summer and winter,” Don said. “As long as there’s homeless we’re going to try and keep doing it.”
The Nahhas family is hosting a benefit concert on Friday at the Blue Lamp at the intersection of Alhambra Blvd. and N street from 7:30 p.m to 1 a.m.