Loaves & Fishes Serves Guests: A Note On & Essay by Our First ED, LeRoy Chatfield

LeRoy Chatfield, First Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes

One of the marks of good leadership is knowing you can’t do it all alone & our founders, Chris & Dan Delany, were not exempt from such knowing. They started the Catholic Worker house right here in Sacramento which eventually became the space of origin for the Loaves & Fishes we know and love today. As they dove deep into the work of justice and non-violent direct action, they were keenly aware that the charge they felt called to, “feed the hungry” would require a whole host of passionate individuals.

As Loaves & Fishes grew, buying an old bar to serve as the first Dining Room and attracting many community volunteers (as well as the judgment of the City of Sacramento) it became clear that our radical founders needed an organizer to come in and pave the way for what we now celebrate as 40 years of daily miracles; enter LeRoy Chatfield. 

LeRoy arrived with years of organizing experience under his belt and he was passionate about advocating for justice (he had done years of work with Chavez and the farmworkers) but here he was asked to organize the finances of a rapidly growing Loaves & Fishes. During his time not only did he organize finances, working closely with former CFO Rudy Ahumada, he also organized the Board of Directors and oversaw the genesis of Maryhouse, Hope House, the New Dining Room, St. John’s Shelter, Brother Martin’s Courtyard, Graveside Services Program (now the Memorial Wall), Mustard Seed School, Women’s Wisdom Project, Our Daily Bread Program, Friendship Park, Jail VIsitation, Loha’s Playground, the Reading Room/Library, and so much more. 

While LeRoy’s contributions to Loaves & Fishes are plenty  & while many of them are seen in new iterations today, one thing remains the same: we serve guests, not clients. LeRoy gave language and framework to this idea turned into 40 years of action.

-Written by: Shannon Dominguez-Stevens, Maryhouse Director

With his permission, we share his own words on “Guests, Not Clients” from his collection of Easy Essays.

Loaves & Fishes serves guests, not clients. 

Guests are made to feel welcome, hospitality is extended. Clients are expected to make (and keep) appointments. No appointment, no service.

Guests are accepted as friends, given the benefit of the doubt, and not kept waiting. Clients are expected to wait patiently, however long it takes, and then listen up when their turn comes. 

Guests are treated as equals; they do not have to justify their presence. Clients must prove their need with ID and detailed questionnaires. 

Guests are free to kick back, relax, and catch a few rays. Clients have to be scrutinized, toe the mark, or seek services elsewhere. 

Guests are free to ask questions, criticize, and challenge the system. Clients are expected to be grateful for any service rendered, and no talking back, please. 

Guests are free to help themselves to seconds. Clients are notified that one is sufficient. 

Guests are free to come and go as they please. Clients need permission. 

The most challenging part of being a Loaves & Fishes staff member is to understand – and practice – the difference between guest and client. Some prospective staff members are inherently incapable of making the transition from client to guest because of a deeply held bias that they are different from and therefore better than guests. Some of the measuring sticks a staff member uses to mark this difference are so superficial, they could be called silly. Some examples: education (“my degree”), fashion (“Where did you get that cute outfit?”), life style (“I’m going to work out”), mobility (“I’m going to L.A. for the weekend”), status (“What does your father do?”), career (“Where did you go to grad school?”). Even the often-quoted scripture admonition, “There but for the grace of God, go I” is interpreted to mean, “You poor bastards.” 

Finally, the Loaves & Fishes staff member must be nonjudgmental, period. No exceptions. There is no latitude to say this guest deserves help, but that one is hopeless. Or this guest is ready to reform, but that one is a trouble-maker. Or this guest is cooperative and needs my help, but that one is a pain in the ass and can be ignored. 

When Loaves & Fishes staff members begin to experience the joy of working with guests, not clients, they experience a new-found freedom in their daily work. This new relationship is honest, mature, and more like the values expressed in the Gospel. These guests – former clients – now suddenly have ideas and points of view worth considering. They can be wise beyond understanding and challenge us to live the present moment now, today. Some have great talents bottled up within, trying to find expression. Many are generous beyond all measure. Most have suffered traumatic physical injuries and walk every step with pain relieved from time to time only by self medication. They don’t justify or make excuses about their shortcomings. They do not curse their fortune or the hand that has been dealt them, and they live with such hope! 

As one who has been fortunate to work at Loaves & Fishes for many years, I can sense when staff members have made the difficult transition from client to guest, because the refrain is nearly identical: “I have received from the guests much more than I gave.”

Established in 1983, Sacramento Loaves & Fishes is the largest homeless survival services organization in the Sacramento area. The 4.5-acre campus has 16 programs and services, including warm hearty meals, life-saving supplies, hygiene care, mental health counseling, education for children, long-term overnight shelter for women, and offers friendship to nearly 1,000 adults and children each day. In the spirit of hospitality and radical love, Loaves & Fishes is an oasis for guests seeking respite and a space of belonging.   

For more information call 916-446-0874.

1 Comment

  1. David H Sperbeck on February 3, 2023 at 11:35 pm

    Chris and Dan Delany were visionaries who knew Dorthy Day and understood the catholic worker message of service of the poor and homelesss. Leroy Chatfield was the former Christian Brother who was able to put these inspirations of the Delanys’ into practice and build and support the needed programs of L&F. He never sat down in his office and was always on his feet to keep fulfulling the dream of making life for the poor a little less difficult and more dignified. Treating all seeking help as “Guests” was the law at L&F and anything less was never tolerated. It was truly times of hope and fulfillment to see the people of Sacramento step forward as volunteers, donors and supporters. I was truly fortunate to be a part of the early expansion of L&F and see the magic of these Visionaries implemented and Dorthy Day’s and Chris and Dan’s dream put into daily practice of Service of the Poor!

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