April Imboden knows many places where people who are experiencing homelessness live in Fresno. On this day, she’s parked her car in an alley near Fruit and Dakota.
“Do you want some pizza? Do you want a piece of pizza?” she yells from her car.
She has a couple of boxes she’s purchased from Little Caesars, and she’s passing out slices to folks who might be hungry.
“What’s your name?” she asks one man. “Ronald,” he says.
“I’m April. Nice to meet you Ronald. Is there anybody in there?” she asks, pointing to a tent. A barely audible voice comes from inside.
“Who is that?” Imboden asks. “Is that Rosemary? Do you want a piece of pizza Rosemary?”
Imboden has spent enough time over the past two years handing out water and food that she sometimes recognizes people. She gives Rosemary a slice, and then sings out her name.
Imboden also has other supplies in her car: clothes, cookies, bottles of water, even backpacks.
“Hey Ronald, do you want a backpack?” she asks and hands him a bright blue one. Then she turns to Rosemary. “I got a pink sweater, do you want it?”
Rosemary tells her, “I don’t do pink" and Imboden rolls with it. "You don't do pink," she acknowledges.
Imboden says she likes to help out because she lived on the streets for two years. She says she had a meth addiction and she lost the trailer where she was living. In 2018, she got an apartment through a Fresno housing program and when she first moved in, a grassroots volunteer organization called Wings helped her furnish the place with donated items.
The effort was so thoughtful, she says, she broke down.
“It made me cry,” she says. “I thought I was gonna have to do it all by myself.”
They even brought her a welcome basket.
“So I swore to them I’m gonna go help them and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says.
She not only volunteers for Wings, but several other organizations including a recovery center where she got help. One of the volunteers at Wings told me Imboden sees the best in everyone and she can single-handedly carry a bed up a flight of stairs.
Imboden has a mental illness so she’s on disability. She also has a part-time job at a thrift store although it’s not open now.
She says she’s always on the lookout for people in need, like on this day when she calls out to a man on the side of the road who is trying to fix his bike. His belongings are in bags next to him.
“Hey what happened, do you got a flat?” she asks.
He tells her his derailleur came off and he doesn’t have any tools. They were stolen, he says.
“What tool do you need?” Imboden asks. She gets out of her car and rummages around.
“A 4-in-1 screwdriver. Will that work?” she asks. “Yes,” he says.
The man says his name is Eddie and they start talking. Eddie tells Imboden he plays the guitar.
“And how’s the guitar?” she asks. “Does that help you connect with people and life?”
Yes, Eddie says. “It’s such a beautiful thing. It opens up so many doors to meeting people.
“It also soothes…”
“The soul,” says Imboden, finishing his sentence.
Eddie brings up the story in the Bible about King Saul. When Saul was bothered by evil spirits, he says, only David’s harp would make him feel better.
“The music soothed his soul so he could relax and calm down but without the music he was mad at everybody,” he says.
“Was it David from David and Goliath?” Imboden asks? “Yes,” Eddie says.
They talk a bit more and then Eddie thanks her for her help
“OK Eddie are you going to be able to fix your bike?” she asks. “I should be able to fix my bike, no problem,” he answers.
And with that, Imboden drives away ready to help another person in need.