DRESSED IN a perfectly ironed, striped American Eagle collared shirt, spotless dark blue jeans, with matching and immaculate shoes, Robert Santilli hands a bag of a weeks worth of groceries to an impoverished woman in a dress that she has probably worn three times that week. Though he may look wildly out of place Santilli can be found at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood every Saturday morning helping the impoverished and homeless.
Santilli, a Senior Business Major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, wasn’t always so hands-on or involved in giving to others, though he always had an “underlying passion to serve”. As a student “that passion become an active service”. He is now in love with helping others. Santilli praises the campus’ ability to make service accessible. “I always had a small desire to do service, but never had a great opportunity”. Now that Santilli lives within Los Angeles, there are plenty of opportunities, and several different neighboring communities that need his help, two of which he has dedicated his college years to. Not only did Santilli not have an opportunity before LMU, he was secretly scared to serve the homeless population.
|photo via Blessed Sacrament Hollywood|
Santilli grew up in a wealthy family in Valencia, and he feared that the homeless would be “angry with me for what I had or that they wouldn’t accept my service”. He feared their reaction and possible hostility towards someone from wealth trying to help them. Therefore he kept his contact with the homeless population very scarce and the thought of being immersed in their environment was overwhelming. He did have a desire to help, but his fear overcome that desire and kept him from fulfilling those needs. Santilli was and is all too familiar with the stereotypes that surround homeless people. They are thought of as drug or alcohol addicts, possibly crazed, dangerous, hostile and some believe that they are not worth helping. Those stereotypes are part of what kept Santilli away and fed his fears, but they are now what Santilli is fighting against when trying to get other people involved.
Santilli started helping the homeless slowly with the “Feed the Hungry” program at LMU. He helped make bagged lunches for the people at a homeless shelter in Santa Monica every Tuesday. Though he helped make the lunches, it took him several months before he actually went to the homeless shelter. When he got there he felt even more rewarded for his hard work when seeing the gratefulness of the people receiving the lunches. He observed that at that shelter the people were “chronically homeless. You will see the same people there every week for months or even years at a time”. He even became fast friends with one of the regulars at the shelter, a man who served in the Vietnam, a population that seemed to overrun that particular shelter.
Santilli left “Feed the Hungry” due to a conflict of scheduling, but that did not stop his service. He found the Blessed Sacrament Church, and since it is located in Hollywood, it brings a very different clientele from his previous place of service. “Mostly European and not necessarily homeless, they have homes, they just don’t have a lot of money, it gets really crazy in there. People steal and barter…” If one drives by this church on a Saturday morning between ten and noon they will see a line around the block of people waiting for their bags of groceries. Santilli notes that the lines are longer in Hollywood and you do not always see the same amount of people. He attributes this to the area, “it’s further from the beach so there are not as many homeless”. After working at both locations for two years, Santilli has decided he prefers Hollywood, “I love it and I hope to continue volunteering there after I graduate in May”. Seeing that he is close to the Church’s Program Director and that he currently goes there every Saturday, it is hard to imagine that he will not continue to go there.
What Santilli likes most about volunteering in Hollywood as opposed to Santa Monica is that “with the chronically homeless it is easy to spot them, the clients at this location (Hollywood) look just like you or me”. To him this point is an important one. He knows that with living in Los Angeles there are thousands of people with different lives, different situations and that you cannot really know anyone just by the way they look. Los Angeles is an eclectic city and one that cannot be judged by the appearance only, and neither can the people.
-- Mickala Jauegui