By Thomas J. Sullivan–
It’s 8:45 a.m. on a recent Monday, and Alfred “Snack Man” Sanchez is busy loading up backpacks and getting his motorized scooter ready to make his early morning rounds.
For the last 18 months, Sanchez has been delivering a Zip-lock snack bag, a juice pack and new socks to the city’s homeless wherever he finds them.
“We might not see as many today, since it’s the first of the month, and many of those who receive benefits might not be around to see us,” Sanchez told The Sentinel. “We’ll try to see as many as we can.”
His friendly smile, big, bushy gray-black beard and fluorescent yellow t-shirt with “Snack Man” emblazoned in large black letters on the back has become a familiar sight among the city’s homeless.
Sanchez, who is disabled, has lived in Citrus Heights for over 20 years. He purchases snacks and juice packs for the homeless at his own expense, mostly from Grocery Outlet and the Dollar Store, at a cost of between $80 and $100 each month.
Each person on the street he encounters has a story to tell, he explains. “I try to treat each and every one I meet with respect and dignity.”
The Sentinel joined up with the Snack Man as he began his morning rounds, rolling down the north side of Greenback Lane towards Interstate 80 and searching behind the fast food restaurants, restaurants and retail stores lining Greenback Lane where he’s met homeless in the past.
“If you wake up hungry, you’re going to have a bad day,” Sanchez said. “Hunger makes people make bad choices, and in some cases that leads to desperation and arrest. I’m hoping to bring them a measure of hope.”
On today’s trek, he makes certain to visit many of the city’s recycling centers where he finds those on bicycles toting big bags of bottles and cans, waiting to turn them in for quick cash.
We came across a young man, sound asleep in a battered red Ford Escape. Sanchez left a bag of snacks on its left front fender.
Near the corner of Auburn Boulevard and Greenback Lane, just behind a Vietnamese restaurant, a sleeping bag was left in the back parking lot where someone recently had spent the night.
“Sleeping bags are precious out here,” Sanchez said. “I’m surprised that this one was left behind.”
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We rounded a corner and headed deeper into a parking lot where a swinging fence, locked at night, makes police patrols difficult to do. Seated on a short, concrete retaining wall, we encountered another one of Sanchez’s regulars.
Asked how she was doing, a blond woman with a weather-beaten face who appeared to be in her mid-40s replied, “Not too good,” with a forced smile. She appreciated the bag of snacks that Sanchez handed her.
“She had a history of mental health challenges,” said Sanchez. “We caught her on a good day.”
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In addition to Zip-lock bags of snacks, Sanchez also hands out a card for Toni Morgan, the Citrus Heights Homeless Navigator.
“Many people in the city are afraid of the homeless. They don’t see them as I do,” Sanchez said. “I remember a time when there weren’t more than a handful of the homeless here.”
“The homeless population in Citrus Heights is constantly changing,” he said. “They’re often on the move, doing whatever they need to do to find shelter each evening and from the winter rains here. I also see a lot of new faces who haven’t yet heard of Snack Man.”
Sanchez said he’ll go to places where his motorized scooter can navigate and blows his whistle to attract attention if someone is in a more secluded creek area.
He knows most by their name and the last location he’s encountered them. Old and young, male and female, each has a story to tell and behavior to watch for.
Another older individual, “Andy,” under some shade by the Dollar Tree on Greenback Lane, declined a bag of snacks or a hot cup of coffee from nearby Taco Bell and appeared lost in his own world.
“Some area homeless have significant mental health issues and their behavior is erratic, Sanchez said. “Since I travel these areas alone, I have to approach each of them with caution as I introduce myself.”
“There are quite a few new homeless who’ve come into the city from Sacramento and other areas who just don’t know that there’s a Citrus Heights Navigator or what help might be available here.”
Sanchez, a practicing Muslim, says helping the city’s homeless on a daily basis is a pledge to practice the faith he believes. “I pray that God will accept each good deed I am able to do each day.”
“I’m here to help and to give them hope. There’s a lot of good people out here,” Sanchez said.
Those interested in learning more about Alfred “Snack Man” Sanchez can find videos of him interacting with local homeless on his YouTube channel.