A group of San Quentin prisoners collected money and hygiene items for Bay Area homeless youths.
“Even in prison, guys got that spirit of giving,” said Gregory “Eagle” Coates, a member of the youth offender organization Kid CAT.
“It’s always rewarding, especially for the guys that’ve had the experience of being homeless kids themselves. A lot of guys in Kid CAT know about that,” Coates added.
The group pounded the pavement daily throughout October, November and December to collect donated hygiene items and inmate trust account donation funds for the Huckleberry Youth Multi-Service Center. The San Francisco-based organization provides care and housing to homeless and at-risk kids.
The men of Kid CAT asked their peers to contribute whatever they could spare for a collective donation.
Kid CAT is a self-help group that primarily serves offenders who committed their crimes at a young age.
“We’ve collected hygiene for other organizations in the past, but we’ve been giving to Huckleberry House for the last three years because of the connection to underprivileged youths,” Coates explained.
Outside volunteers Phil and Gail Towle helped deliver the hygiene items to a Huckleberry representative on Jan. 6.
Kid CAT members sorted the items and put them in about 50 individual care packs containing soap, shampoo, toothpaste, lotion and deodorant.
“You guys are undiscovered treasures,” said Phil Towle. “Gail and I are the lucky ones because we get to see firsthand your heartfelt desire to serve the world.
“You guys give because it’s in your bones. That’s the unspoken and deepest truth I see – you give not because you’re trying to pay back society but because your hearts care about the well being of other human beings.”
Nou Phang Thao, the last of the original founding Kid CAT members still incarcerated, has experienced and witnessed the effects of giving from one’s heart.
“What I’ve seen myself is how great a feeling it is for the guys that do walk the tiers every night, speaking and interacting with everyone in their unit,” said Thao. “They may not realize it when they first sign up for that duty, but man – it’s powerful stuff.
“You can talk about ‘being of service’ all you want, but when you get out there and actually do it, you really feel it.”
Coates said with a smile, “There’s always some guys in their cells and on the tiers being sarcastic – you know, saying, ‘Hey, what about me? I need a donation. (Others) are very giving.”
“A huge part of Kid CAT’s mission is to serve our entire community”
After years of being the driving force behind the hygiene campaign, Coates stepped aside to allow Miguel Sifuentes the opportunity to hone his organizational skills on this year’s event.
“Eagle’s still the heart and soul,” said Sifuentes. “I just helped out with keeping track of all the paperwork.”
Kid CAT raised close to $1,200 for this year’s drive – all from inmate trust account donations, some as little as $5. KidCAT members in each housing unit engaged in a fierce but friendly competition to see which unit would generate the most contributions, with West Block winning hands down.
“We always try and put together as many bags as we can,” said Coates. “But with the money we raise, they can get more bang for the buck out there than what we have to spend at the store in here.
“Molly Brown, the lady we work with at Huckleberry House, always seems really touched by the men in prison who are willing to give — ‘really impressed that you guys would do that.’ ”
“A huge part of Kid CAT’s mission is to serve our entire community,” explained Kid CAT Chairman Si Dang. “It makes us feel human, and it’s such a valuable lesson to encourage and instill in incarcerated youths.”
On a stormy Sunday, the SQ Firehouse provided a truck to carry the hygiene bags from inside the prison out to the parking lot, where the Towles waited to meet with Molly Brown.
“I’m just humbled and deeply moved by the passion and involvement of Phil and Gail Towle,” said Dang. “They sacrificed their time, stood out in the heavy rain to deliver the goods, and did it all with a great spirit. That’s just who they are.”