ELKO — In the Bible, Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
Underdog Street Ministries celebrated Christmas by serving dinner to more than 50 of Elko’s lost sheep at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Gasper J. Salaz Post 2350. Cold weather gear, sleeping bags and tents were also distributed.
Underdog founder Kimberly Clements said, “When I started, my goal was just to feed people. I wasn’t planning on forming a 501©3 [nonprofit group]; it just turned into this.”
After starting the organization seven years ago, Clements filed for nonprofit status a couple months ago.
“We’re looking for a building in the downtown corridor for a day center,” Clements said, noting that several people die in Elko each winter from exposure to the elements. “In the summer, the triple-digit heat is almost as bad.”
“We’ve already lost some of our family this year: ‘L.B.’, Jeanette, and Stan. That was rough,” Clements said. “But it’s a reminder not to take life for granted, to tell our family we love each other and have each other’s back.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven,” 2,000 years ago. Poverty and homelessness are not unique to 21st-century Elko.
“Treasure Island” author Robert Louis Stevenson documented Elko’s transient population around 1879 in “Across the Plains.” When Stevenson’s train stopped in Elko for dinner, “I saw two men whip suddenly from underneath the cars, and take to their heels across country. They were tramps, it appeared, who had been riding on the beams since eleven of the night before.”
Jack London rode those same beams though Elko on April 12, 1894, as an unemployed teenager, he wrote in his “Tramp’s Diary.” After becoming world-famous for his Klondike Gold Rush adventure stories like “Call of the Wild,” London camouflaged himself as a transient and lived in a slum for a month to write “The People of the Abyss.”
While foxes have their dens and birds have their nests, people sometimes have no place to lay their heads. Some of Elko’s transient population arrived looking for work in our gold mines, but were unable to secure a job and got stuck here.
“Long term, we want to help somebody get out of their homeless situation, to move them from a tent into an apartment,” Clements said. “If we had a building, it would be a lot easier for us.”
Tents and sleeping bags provided to the homeless on Christmas were organized by Jennifer Koopman, president of the Joshua Tree organization that is trying to open a homeless shelter in Elko. Koopman distributed cold weather gear donated to the 13th Annual Elko Regional Interfaith Christmas Crèche Exhibit.
Spring Creek Baptist Church also provided donations.
Clements expressed great gratitude to the many groups and individuals who donated in the true spirit of Christmas.
Underdog Street Ministries serves free lunches every Friday at the “Train Park” downtown, and every Sunday at the VFW post.