If you look up the definition of “grace,” you might find the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program’s Chantel Toliver. She dishes it out daily, along with free showers, bagged lunches, jackets, blankets, even duffel bags. Like the rest of the staff at GRIP, grace is part of the job requirements.
Her job is at the door – helping dole out services, and also making hard decisions, sometimes telling hungry people they can’t get lunch just yet. Sometimes they need to go the separate shower facility and clean up first, or some folks are having a disruptive episode that could impact the families at the shelter, and she has to turn them way, but not without a free lunch, clean socks, and nearly any other essential items they might require.
“Sometimes people are just having a bad day,” said Chantel. She gets that people are going through a lot. “Yeah, I didn’t let him come inside, but I gave him a bagged lunch and a piece of fruit,” she said.
“I’ve always been in customer service,” Chantel said. Driving for Amazon, the 52-year old Richmond-raised mom had an injury and needed lighter duty than delivering packages. She worked at GRIP part time first and quickly rose into full-time leadership. “I always seem to rise to a manager role wherever I am,” she explained. “I am always looking for quicker and better ways of doing things, and everyone seems to like that.”
If you ever watched the legendary sitcom M*A*S*H, she’s a bit like Radar O’Reilly when it comes to acquisitions. When she needs something, she knows who to call, but sometimes even for her it’s hard to find stuff.
“Right now, we need toothpaste. We need towels. And we need little bottles of toiletries like shampoo and conditioner. People aren’t traveling as much now, so we don’t get as much of that stuff,” she said while showing the half bare supply cupboard. “That stack of towels? That will be gone quickly.”
Donations come from churches, synagogues and other places of worship, community groups, schools, individuals, and her vast network of contacts.
People experiencing homelessness can show up, grab a clean towel, take a shower, clean up, brush their teeth, if they can find any remaining toothpaste, and even pick up a duffle bag or a fresh sleeping bag.
GRIP is the only full-service center supporting the homeless population of Western Contra Costa. There are no quid pro quos here. You show up and get fed, no questions asked.
“We take care of everyone. They’re all people,” Chantel said.
Chantel said her initial moment at GRIP was an awakening. “Homelessness to me was often across the street, or you see people holding up funny signs. That was my interaction. When I came here? I saw compassion and what they were doing, and it put a real face on them.”
“You don’t know who you might be feeding,” she said. “So, let’s see what we can do and help a little more.”
If you want to help Chantel with toothpaste, towels, new underwear (men’s and women’s), sanitary pads, tampons, toiletries, or food, drop by the facility at or give money online at www.GRIPCares.org/donate.