The Humanity Heroes both with backpacks for 100 homeless. [All photos by Emily Hobelmann] This past Sunday, the nonprofit Humanity Heroes joined with local cannabis distribution and processing company Green Ox* in front of St. Vincent de Paul on 3rd St. in Old Town Eureka in order to distribute 100 provisions-packed backpacks and 100 blankets to community members in need. The effort to get the backpacks full of safety, comfort, and hygiene items directly into homeless hands was assisted by UPLIFT Eureka, a program run by the Eureka Community Services Department in an effort to address and prevent homelessness.
Kyle Preciado CEO of Green Ox. According to their website, Humanity Heroes is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit “that takes a hands-on approach to help ease the suffering of the homeless.” Green Ox’s Co-Founder and CEO Kyle Preciado has done some work with the charitable organization in the past. When Humanity Heroes recently reached out to Green Ox to help coordinate a backpack distribution event here in Humboldt County, Preciado said he was immediately on board. The backpack distribution was essentially by appointment, as UPLIFT Eureka distributed vouchers in advance with designated pick up times in order to enable social distancing. “We didn’t really want 100 people showing up at the same time,” said UPLIFT Eureka Program Coordinator Jeff Davis.
Jeff Davis with the City of Eureka. “About 80-85 packs are being handed out today,” he continued, with the rest being hand-delivered to people that couldn’t physically make it. The backpacks contain first aid kits, flashlights, toiletries, hand sanitizers and other basic gear, like hats and gloves, things that Davis says are really needed right now in the midst of the winter season and the ongoing global health and economic crises associated with Covid. This past year, Humanity Heroes has distributed about 5,000 backpacks like this throughout the state, Preciado says, “so we’re part of this larger effort” to give the recipients “the opportunity to have a little more comfort inside of whatever element or space they’re exposed to.”
Jason Hayenga with Green Ox. Green Ox employee Jason Hayenga was on-hand to help at the distribution event, and he believes this sort of direct supplies distribution event is especially effective because a charitable donation doesn’t do any good “unless it gets out to the people who need it.” Hayenga experienced homelessness for about six weeks when he first started at Green Ox, although he says he endured this period without shelter by choice — he considers it a necessary part of his path to his current stable living and work situation. He is one of 83 employees at Green Ox, employees that span all walks of life from all types of backgrounds, Preciado says, from PhDs to some less fortunate individuals in the community. Hayenga had moved to Humboldt from Modesto at the start of 2020, then wound up sheltering in place at one of the Arcata House shelters in the spring with the onset of Covid-related shut downs. With help from the farm labor contractor and staffing agency Emerald Employment, Hayenga put together a resume, got on Indeed.com and found work “out at farms, bucking and trimming.” At this point, he was camping out, so he kept looking for steady work in town. “Luckily the cannabis industry… was up and running at that point.” By the time he landed an interview with Green Ox, he was well-versed in the practice of setting trimmers up with raw material to process, and he was deemed hireable. It did take him some time to get housing once he started at Green Ox, but “I don’t want to make it sound like I was on the streets destitute,” he says. He was a man with resources and a mission, and his persistence combined with the wherewithal to lean on Emerald Employment for help finding work helped Hayenga land on his feet.
A man visits the Green Ox blanket booth. The use of such community resources, public and otherwise, combined with the use of the basic hygiene items provided in the backpacks can give someone the confidence or ability to help them get a job or improve their lives, Preciado says. “That’s something we’ve seen work first hand at the Green Ox.” Cannabis businesses, having been deemed essential and are allowed to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the concerted effort of local cannabis businesses to give back to the community during this time is a welcome trend, Davis says. UPLIFT has worked with other cannabis companies in the past. Notably Papa & Barkley participates in their Pathway to Payday program, which features four days of seminars, workshops, and mock interviews, leading into real interviews and, ideally, real jobs. Davis appreciates that this is “a community effort to address this complex problem that we’re facing,” an effort to pump some time and money back into the community — above and beyond the required payments of fees and taxes.
Booth with colorful blankets available. As a significant portion of the cannabis industry now exists in a legitimized context in California, its companies advertise employment opportunities on websites like Indeed.com and Craigslist. People seeking work need email addresses, resumes and references, a dramatic departure from the primarily word-of-mouth sourced workforce of the industry’s past. By partnering with organizations in the same vein as UPLIFT Eureka and Humanity Heroes, cannabis businesses can help with the distribution of tactile resources to people in need, while also increasing their exposure to the community at large. Furthermore, direct participation in community-oriented philanthropic programs enables cannabis businesses to let the community know that employment in the industry is within reach for all types of people, but resumes and references may be required. *Please note Green Ox is an advertiser on this website.