Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sandra arrived on a Greyhound bus on the 4th of July in 1985 with only the clothes on her back.
“I was so country that I tried to pay with a 10 dollar Arkansas food stamp for the hamburger, fries and soda at the bus station when I arrived in Los Angeles. I hadn’t eaten in 3 days. The bus driver took me to Redding, California where my granddad was and I ended up working for the California Conservation Corps,” remembered Sandra.
A brush with the law landed Sandra in jail and then on the streets of the Tenderloin where she succumbed to the lure of street drugs like crack, coke, and crystal meth. There were some lost years and a lot of heartbreaking struggles but this profoundly strong woman persevered.
“I started to want to live and not just survive. There is a big difference between the two. When you are on the survival food chain, you are like an animal –you eat or you get eaten. I had to do what I had to do in order to survive. I only went once to prison for possession of drugs. But then something shifted inside of me. I said that’s it. Never again. I wanted to be free of addiction. One day during treatment, it hit me. I had to admit that I was a drug addict. I said it and the whole world opened up. I acknowledged it and my recovery began,” shared Sandra.
Ultimately, Sandra’s journey brought her to Ritter Center.
“I learned through Ritter Center to work on my attitude. It opened doors for me. I had to learn to be kind and in turn I received kindness.Eventually, there was no more anger and I began to help myself. I addressed my pain and hope reappeared magically in its place. It was through Whole Person Care that I began to truly heal. I was broken, but nowI am housed and healed and able to help others. I cook every Sunday a hot southern meal for those without shelter in encampments. I know this community and where they hide,” shared Sandra.
Every Sunday Sandra makes and serves dishes like beans and rice, mac and cheese, cornbread, greens, baked chicken and fried chicken.
“This is my therapy. I give out shoes and extra clothes from my car and water and canned food. I have been through too many traumas to count. Raped. kidnapped, shot, guns in my mouth, but in the end, I tell the world you can do this: hustle for drugs or hustle for your life.
I have two dreams: being a motivational speaker and saving enough money for a food truck to serve the homeless. More than anything in the world having a food truck is my dream. When I feed people and cook for people, it wakes my whole spirit up. The joy in their faces is priceless,”said Sandra.
“One day when I am not here anymore, my son and his kids will say what I did and be proud of me. I didn’t know it was OK for me to love myself and to dream. Now my grandson lives with me. We cook for the neighbors and the elderly. I will be preparing an extra special Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. I hope next year I will be able to have a food truck to serve these meals. I’ll call it Two Pots and A Pan.”
“My life story is going from hurting to healing to helping. I call it the ‘Triple H’ effect!”
With the help of Ritter Center, Sandra is living in permanent housing and, every Sunday, renews her sense of healing by helping others. When we work together, we restore a sense of agency, provide solace, and remind our community members that there is still hope.