Making a Difference One Loan at a Time
The Investment Committee is one of the quieter committees in the Loretto Community. Started in the 1970s, our original mandate was shareholder activism. We, along with other religious communities, would exercise our proxy as shareholders to ask for significant changes from corporations.
Around 1980, we realized that we could make a significant difference in the lives of nonprofits working for social change by loaning them money at very low or no interest in capital projects. We have loaned money to dozens of organizations and in our 40-plus year history, we have a 99% payback rate. The loans have gone to a variety of places and causes — from housing to credit unions to helping a small town keep its nonprofit movie theater alive. Loans have been made in more than 20 states and have helped support Fonkoze Bank in Haiti. But few of our loans have been as fun or meaningful as the one described below. Faithful Fools creates community, particularly with a strong witness and advocacy program with houseless people. They say, “We are guided by the idea that solidarity is a horizontal relationship, not vertical. We welcome everyone in building community, celebrating life and healing historical injuries to human dignity especially as they appear in structures that perpetuate racism and poverty.” Started by a Franciscan nun, Carmen Barsody, and a Unitarian minister, Kay Jorgenson, Faithful Fools has been a mainstay of the San Francisco social justice community for decades. Below is an excerpt from their story and Loretto’s role in their work.
75 Million Pennies and 22 Years Later
“We began 2022 debt free!! It was at the beginning of the year 2000 that Kay Jorgensen and I were on a street retreat, and we asked ourselves, “Should we give intention to a building?” And so, we did, that very same day. We were at the corner of Golden Gate and Hyde. We put our fingers in the air to see which way the wind was blowing till we came to 230/234 Hyde Street where Ramesh Patel was in his copy shop. We had met Ramesh about nine months earlier when we were walking through the neighborhood with a friend and dreaming about having a home in the Tenderloin for Faithful Fools.
This time our dream felt more possible. We had $500 in the bank and a vision. Ramesh wanted to sell the building to a nonprofit and said all he needed from us was a hand shake to commit to working with us so we could buy the building.
Still, we gave him a check for $500. Yup! $500 was a down-payment on a building in the heart of San Francisco. … We gathered friends and board members to dream with us. Many people came forward with bridge loans and donations and a willingness to help gather pennies. It wasn’t until the Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky offered a $100,000 loan at 1% over 10 years that the dream took a turn toward reality.
… In December 2021, I was sent an e-mail by the leadership team telling me the remainder of the loan had been forgiven. What?! What an unexpected gift! On April 1 of this year we plan to celebrate this debt-free moment … maybe we will burn the amortization schedules in our caldron. Stay tuned!!!”
The group photo, courtesy of author Carmen Barsody, previously appeared in a Faithful Fools e-newsletter. If you would like to read the Faithful Fools e-newsletter in its entirety, please go to https://www.faithfulfools.org/projects-3.