Updated: Jun 27, 2020
The Haven Staff Weekly Highlight - Fran
By Jeannie Taylor
The Haven, a day shelter for the homeless in Charlottesville, has continued to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner to guests during the COVID19 pandemic. The ultimate goal at The Haven is to help people who have fallen into homelessness get into secure housing. This is no easy task, so part of the mission of The Haven is to offer daily meals, showers, bathrooms, laundry, health services and social services to guests. The Haven is truly an epitome of community and solidarity in Charlottesville, and through a series of interviews with the staff, we hope to show the greater Charlottesville community what this wonderful place is all about. These individuals work tirelessly, year round to make Charlottesville a better place for each and every one of us, especially those individuals who have hit a rough spot in life and become homeless. If you’re interested in supporting The Haven, COVID19 Student Service Corps (CSSC) at UVa has created several ways to contribute donations, supplies or time which are listed at the end of this article. Our first staff member highlighted in this series is the wonderful Francesca Rinaldo (Fran)— a recent UVa graduate who is one of the kitchen managers at The Haven.
Name: Francesca Rinaldo (Fran)
Occupation: Kitchen Manager at The Haven
1. What brought you to Charlottesville?:“I Graduated from UVa last year in 2019 and studied economics because I could graduate early- I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to be involved in food and using it to enrich people’s lives and empower them. But, at UVa you sometimes get these achievement goggles and I was afraid of only pursuing food/cooking. I was nervous that it wasn’t an intellectual enough pursuit given my educational background. I started working at The Haven to make some extra money to pay for school, and it was an easy job to take because I knew it was a good cause. I loved that I could have fun and get creative, but also provide people with the vital resource of food. I chose to stick around because I fell in love with Charlottesville. I was happy here and my boyfriend said we could live in a house his mom owns for free. I love how small this town is, but the food scene is still very vibrant. It's a size where you can be meaningfully engaged in the community and get to know people in ways you lose when you scale up into larger cities.”
What is your role at The Haven?: “As kitchen manager, I serve breakfast 365 days a year managing donations, food orders, making breakfast, keeping the kitchen clean and functioning, and then interacting with volunteers. I didn’t anticipate how crucial it would be to keep volunteers happy and engaged. Now, during COVID19, us kitchen managers have also taken on the role of managing lunch distribution and making dinner for guests in hotels. Some of our guests at The Haven who become sick, have been able to shelter in hotels in Charlottesville and we send them breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Basically if someone is hungry it's my job to get them food. When I’m planning meals, we are pretty restricted in donations as to what I can make, so I have to manage the finances of the kitchen and keep costs per meal down in the kitchen. It’s a challenge— I enjoy getting creative with what we’re given and using grant money from the emergency food network to fill in on food wherever donations don’t cover it. Obviously it’s ideal not to spend any money if we don’t have to, but that just isn’t realistic all the time. The amazon registry from CSSC has been really great in providing the supplies we need and I would’ve had to purchase with our grant.”
Why did you get involved with The Haven?: “I got involved because Deedee (the previous kitchen manager) was going on an 8 week vacation. I used to work in catering, I had my own catering company with my friend in high school, so I knew how to manage and make large orders of food. It started off as a part time way to help this organization throughout Deedee’s vacation, and then when Deedee came back she said she thought I [Fran] was really good at this. She offered to split the workload and let me come on part time as a kitchen manager. I was also working part time at Bowerbird Bakeshop, so I said yeah why not, I love this and it’s fun and I’ll keep working here part time until I figure out what to do next. I never intended this to be a long term thing but fate, circumstances and luck turned this side job into a passion that I love. In the beginning I always thought about working at a restaurant but here I found I could combine my love for food and it is satisfying, fulfilling work that improves the lives of those in my community— I am doing more than just making money for myself.”
What are your 3 favorite hobbies?: “Honestly, cooking is my favorite hobby. I wouldn’t have ever found this job if I wasn’t drawn to and passionate about cooking. I also love knitting and sewing— they are relaxing to me and let me create something outside of my usual element in the kitchen. I also just love being outside— hiking, biking, swimming at the beach in the ocean. I feel at peace and joyful when I’m out in nature.”
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?: “Typically, I get ready for work and come straight to The Haven, I’m always here by 5:45am. Sometimes, I get ready for work and get back in bed to sleep for 2 more minutes and then I get up to leave. On the weekends, or when I have time off— I get up, make coffee and then play chess on my porch with my boyfriend.
What is a good habit you have developed and hope to maintain post quarantine?: “Well I would say working out but I already quit that. I think I have started recognizing it’s more important to take care of yourself and check in with yourself than it is to hang out with other people. I get anxious that if I don't talk to my friends for a day or two they’ll forget about me or not like me anymore but that’s not true. Your true friends love you even when you aren’t in constant communication, and they should want you to take care of yourself. It’s so important to be alone with yourself sometimes and sit with your thoughts and emotions. It takes maturity to be able to do that without your friends constant praise and approval or doing everything with you.”
What is something you’ve stopped in quarantine and are glad that you did?: “Ha ha this is gross but honestly, I used to not brush my teeth in the morning before work because I would stay up really late, and then I would be late to work. I basically just never had time to, but now I go to bed earlier and wake up in time for work. Also now wearing a mask and the pandemic, I’m more aware of it and personal hygiene for the safety of others, not just myself. Adding the aspect of the safety of The Haven guests and my staff has forced me to make more time to get ready in the morning and take better care of myself.”
What is one thing you wish you could have told your college age self?: “I wish I could have told myself to make sure you always ask yourself why you’re doing something— be true to yourself and be honest about if you’re doing something for attention or because it’s feeding your soul. The things that you do for attention will eventually drain you. But if you are doing activities that bring you life and joy, even if they are hard jobs, it will show you more about yourself and help you create a life that you love. It’s really easy to forget about that in the midst of difficult classes and UVa’s achievement oriented bubble but doing something because you feel right doing it will never steer you down the wrong path.”
What else should we know about you? “I love snakes, I’ve had many pet snakes over my life, by many I mean 2, and I just love them. That’s the most surprising thing about me people usually don’t like. They think it’s weird that I love snakes but I just think they’re such cool, gentle and awesome creatures and I wish they didn’t get so much hate from society.”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned working here? “I’ve learned to never take anything personally. Almost everything you take personally isn’t about you. Oftentimes when you’re here, and you’re working for people accessing these services, you have to remember that they’re in a really tough spot, if not the worst part of their lives. It’s easy to ask why they are being mean to me or ask what did wrong, but it’s almost never about me. If I internalize it or turn the focus onto myself, I’ve completely missed the point of what I am doing. I love my job because I get to help these people who are struggling right now and struggling is not easy or fun— if they’re having a bad day it is not because they hate me, it’s because they’re in a really tough spot right now. The Haven has given me a good lesson in humility and patience and grace and taught me that everyone has bad days. I act in ways I don’t like all the time and it’s almost never because the other person did anything wrong, it’s usually coming from how I feel about myself. We often make the world around us about ourselves, but you have to take a step back and remember that everyone has their own situations. Be mature and realize that person just needs patience, humility and kindness and don’t make it about your ego or your feelings or you’re going to be disappointed every time, instead of experiencing all of the love and joy this place has to offer.”
What is a misconception people have about homelessness? “The idea that there is a look of homelessness— that you can look at what someone is wearing or whatever and just tell what kind of situation they’re in. People are experiencing food and housing insecurity that come from all different walks of life. There isn’t one person who falls into homelessness— people think all homeless people are drug addicts or mentally ill and that just isn’t true. The Haven has helped me to think about the things that lead to homelessness— a lot of times people are maintaining and sustaining themselves just fine, and then something unexpected happens and pushes them into homelessness. Many of these people have a car payment or medical bill that came out of nowhere, and they become homeless, where they wouldn’t have been before. It really can happen to anyone, and if you are sure it would never happen to you that is a very blessed place to be, but you shouldn’t judge others for hitting a rough patch in life. It’s also so much harder to get someone out of homelessness than it is to keep them from becoming homeless, which is why we offer so many services and try so hard to find secure housing and food for people. Offering meals is wonderful and necessary, but the real mission of The Haven is to lift people out of homeless so that they can return to their lives. Being aware of all these things and not patting yourself on the back but realizing these people have as much, if not more, to offer you than you do to them is huge.”
Fran is one of many staff members who make The Haven and all of their wonderful services possible. The Haven relies on support from our community to keep their doors open and services available, so if you’re interested in donating to or volunteering with The Haven through CSSC our website has information on how to do so on our Service Projects Page . Or, you can visit The Haven’s official website at this link. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this article, contact Jeannie Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org).