September 3, 2008

Interview with Charles Thiel of

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Basic Necessities - Charles Thiel Interview

We're pleased to present this interview with Charles Thiel, a co-founder of BasicNecessities, Inc., a 501(c)3 public charity organization established for the purpose of assisting people in need in California's Tri-Valley area; Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton, California.

Charles, welcome. Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did Basic Necessities come about?

Hanging out in a church lobby several years ago, I saw a woman with her four children, obviously in need of assistance. I was able to give her information about Shepherd’s Gate, a Livermore shelter for homeless women and children, but I wanted to do more. I didn’t have the resources there to help her find food or shelter, and I thought to myself, "some day I’m going to do something about this." With that event, the seeds of BasicNecessities were sown.

As a long-time supporter of Shepherd’s Gate and women in crisis, I found that many of the clients were Latino, and four years ago I decided to learn to speak Spanish. While enrolled in Professor Catherine Suarez’ class at Las Positas College in Livermore, I met Denise Rogers, a former homeless mother attending the college on scholarships. Catherine suggested the three of us put together Mother’s Day gift baskets for the homeless moms at Shepherd’s Gate and Tri-Valley Haven, another Livermore shelter for abused women and children.

To facilitate getting tax-deductible donations, we formed a non-profit corporation, and with that BasicNecessities Inc. was born. The gift basket program was wildly successful – we collected more than $6,000 in cash and in-kind donations. Since then we’ve expanded our outreach efforts and we currently have several ongoing projects, all focused on helping those in need of life's basic necessities. This was also my opportunity to put together a web site with information about local resources for food, shelter, financial aid, legal aid, educational aid, medical assistance, pregnancy resources, alcohol and substance abuse recovery, and help for victims of domestic violence. I designed the pages to be printed so that they can be given to a friend or someone in need, and they are also navigable on a Blackberry or other PDA so you can find information while on a street corner somewhere.

What does Basic Necessities do?

Our mission is to provide resources to people in need, particularly those in transitional or crisis situations who are trying to improve their lives.
We do this by providing resources, such as in-kind donations, limited financial assistance, and information, to those in need of life's basic necessities, including food and shelter, financial and educational aid, medical assistance, pregnancy counseling and assistance, safety from abusive relationships, re-entry into the community, and help from alcohol and substance abuse. We serve the Tri-Valley area (Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, and nearby communities), and various mission locations.
We have several ongoing projects:

  • Providing gift baskets to homeless moms at Tri-Valley and Shepherd's Gate homeless and domestic violence shelters. This past May, we provided 60 gift baskets, including 23 to moms in Livermore's Migrant Worker Program.
  • Supporting Local Families and Individuals, which includes providing groceries, clothes, bus passes, furniture, gift cards to local stores, hotel rooms for a night, and directing them to the local resources that can provide more ongoing sustaining support.
  • Providing student grants. This year we will provide two types of grants. Reentry Grants are for students who are reentering the academic environment after a long period of time away of academia. First in Family Grants are for those students who are the first in their family to attend college.
  • Providing shoes to young school-age children in Livermore's poorer school districts; Marylin Avenue Elementary, Jackson Avenue Elementary, and Portola Elementary school, all in Livermore California. Some of these children have never had new shoes before.
  • Providing self-esteem workshops to middle-school and high-school aged Latina girls. The goal of this program is to empower and educate young Latinas in the Tri-Valley area so that they can become the leaders of tomorrow. This program focuses on building self-esteem, making positive choices and creating an educational plan. For many of these girls gangs and teenage pregnancy are what await them if they do not “take control” when they are young.
  • We also provide funding to mission areas outside of the United States; Mexico, Belize, and in the future Cuba.
  • Of course we continue to keep our web site updated, in both Spanish and English, and I've also started a blog so that I can share (anonymously) client stories.

Outside of California's Tri-Valley area, what kinds of things has Basic Necessities done?

We have ongoing mission efforts:

  • Mexico: Colonia Emiliana Zapata, an impoverished community in the foothills above Ensenada, Mexico, has all the problems that plague our local communities: single parent families, alcohol and drug addictions, domestic violence, but also extreme poverty. We continue to support to a children's center called Casa de Pan, a place where latch-key children (grades K – 5) are able to stay safely until their parents return home from work, and where they receive a hot meal, love and attention. This year, we are also supporting a project to do repair and construction work in the homes of single moms, for example installing closets and bathroom sinks, and fixing plumbing. (I personally went on this mission trip, doing general construction work for 4 days).
  • Belize: We provide ongoing support to "Da Wata Fountin'" in Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize. This project began as an outreach to the many Belizeans who spend their nights on Front Street involved in prostitution, drugs, and alcohol abuse. As in many third world countries, young girls who have been prostitutes are no longer welcome by their families. When someone comes to Da Wata Fountin' the staff works to build a relationship with them, share Christ, and help connect that person with local ministries that will integrate them back into the local community. Da Wata Fountin' has since grown into a broader ministry to share the word of Christ with the locals. The house of prostitution has since closed down, and the owner now comes to Da Wata Fountin'.
  • Our Cuba mission is a future program for which we are still raising funds. We will provide shoes, school supplies, and books to school age children in rural areas of Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Camagüey. Cuba is an extremely poor country, and many school age children in rural areas are not able to go to school because they don't have the proper shoes, and school supplies are difficult for the average family to obtain. BasicNecessities, in collaboration with Las Positas College, will travel to Cuba this year to purchase these items (since they can't be imported into the country).

This sounds like an excellent cause — giving much needed direct help to the public. Since this is a public charity, can anyone contribute funds? And how else can people help?

There are several ways to help:

Cash donations of any size; $25, $50, $100 or more are needed to support our various outreach areas. Donations can be sent to our main address, or given via PayPal on our website, Note that your donations are tax deductible.

In-kind donations of:

  • Clothes in good condition in all sizes for children, teens, and adults
  • Women's accessories
  • Clothes for job hunting
  • Furniture (although pickup is on a case by case basis, depending on our needs at the time)
  • Kitchen items
  • Household items
  • Blankets and bedding
  • Children's books in either English or Spanish
  • Toiletries, toilet paper
  • Diapers & wipes
  • Boxed and canned food

Occasional volunteer support, depending on your skills and what our seasonal needs are:

  • Sorting clothes in our storage locker
  • Passing out brochures at Pleasanton or Livermore Downtown events (i.e. 1st Wednesday Street Fairs, Music in the Park, Farmer's Markets)
  • Picking up and delivering furniture (requires a truck or van)

Donate your car, boat, truck, RV, Jet Ski or snowmobile to BasicNecessities Inc. and receive a tax deduction. This no cost, no hassle process begins when you contact our fundraising partner, Donation Line LLC at 877-227-7487. Make sure to ask for our extension, 2319. Or you can click here, "Donate Your Car Now", and complete the Vehicle Donation Form on line. Make sure to select BasicNecessities Inc. from the dropdown list. Please have your title in hand when you donate.

What are you looking to achieve in the future?

We are looking to grow the organization, particularly with respect to financial donations, in-kind support, and volunteer support. This year we are on track to bring in $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations, about 2/3 of this in cash. However, with the number of clients that we have, we are only able to provide $50 in gift cards or a hotel room once per quarter. Although we are focused on crisis rather than sustaining care (as other organizations are better equipped for this) we would like to be able help more people.

Excellent. BasicNecessities certainly provides a needed service to people in need. Where can people reach you?

I can be reached at the Basic Necessities website. For more information about our organization, please visit our website at, and read our client stories on our blog.

Alright. Thanks for allowing us to interview you and to learn about Basic Necessities. What you're doing is truly impressive. I'm hoping that some of our readers can lend a hand.

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