After Losing Her Income, a California Woman Found Joy Again By Feeding the Homeless

Jennifer Aldrich

The past few months have been a difficult time for many people across the country, including Debra Durgin from Petaluma, California. In March, Durgin was forced to close her insurance business due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, and she says, "she was feeling sorry for herself." So, the 60-year-0ld decided to take the advice her grandmother gave her many years ago. "When you're sad, help someone." She's since been donating food, clothes, and other items to people without homes in her community.

It all began in mid-March when Durgin made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and distributed them to the homeless community. "There were so many people," Durgin says. "They're only getting food once a day. They don't have any clean clothes. It's a horrible situation." The next day, Durgin brought a whole smorgasbord of food: burritos, fruit, water, and a dessert. "My opening with everyone is, 'My name is Debra, what's your name?'" Durgin explains. "And they look at me like I'm nuts because no one asks for their name. I repeat their name, and they stand a little taller."

Courtesy of Debra Durgin Debra Durgin helps people without homes in her community by donating food and supplies.

As she continued to make about 15 to 30 meals per day, five-to-six times per week, Durgin realized she would need help. "I was spending money I didn't have," she says. So, she posted on Nextdoor, a networking service that connects you to those who live nearby, and contacted friends personally asking if anyone would like to help by donating food and supplies. "Things just started showing up," Durgin explains. "It was unbelievable."

"When I help people, I no longer feel sorry for myself. I feel super grateful."

—Debra Durgin

Now, several people are helping Durgin cook up the meals. "It has to be homemade,"Durgin says. "It has to be from the heart." Others have been donating necessities such as backpacks and tents. Durgin, with the help of some very generous donors, was even able to buy one man staying at the local homeless shelter a car so that he could get back on his feet. "It's just amazing," Durgin says. "People are doing whatever they can. 

Related: Wisconsin Bakery Donates 10,000 Treats to Emergency Workers During Pandemic

Durgin says she expects the winter will be rough due to COVID-19 and the flu and has started preparing by stocking up on winter gear. "When I help people, I no longer feel sorry for myself," she says. "I feel super grateful."

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