Pirates Help the Homeless in Reno

Renown employee Sam Tower, at far right, helps serve food during a recent Pirates of Reno night organized by We Care Volunteers at downtown Reno’s Morris Burner Hotel.

Local costumed group featuring a Renown employee brings their talent and treasure to the community

On one of the coldest nights this winter, pirates were sighted at the gate of the Morris Burner Hotel near Fourth Street in downtown Reno. This wasn’t a pillaging or a treasure hunt, though – these pirates were on the serving line providing meals to the homeless.

Pirates Help the Homeless in Reno
The Pirates of Reno recently gave We Care Volunteers a donation from the group’s annual holiday gathering. From left to right are Ron Nobles, Amber Dobson, Sam Tower and Valarie Jacobsen.

As  part of the Pirates of Reno’s weekly night of volunteerism for local charity, We Care Volunteers, the volunteers – pirates and civilians alike – set up large heaters on Dec. 30, 2014 while dozens of people waited in line for food near the art cars in the Morris’ back courtyard .  Volunteers also boxed up two dozen meals for homeless people waiting in line for sleeping mats a block away.

One volunteer, Mad Jack Wythim, known to his co-workers as Sam Tower, is a rehab therapy technician. He was joined by 10 to 12 others, including Pirates of Reno founder Ron Nobles (aka Commodore Kraken) and Amber Dobson, leader of We Care Volunteers. Amber’s charity, which has been around for 10 years, specializes in providing hot meals to the homeless, currently four nights a week outside of the Morris.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Amber’s a pirate, too. Her name is Cookie, “because she has the food,” Sam explains.

Even though it was below 20 degrees and dropping, there was a playful feeling when the pirates helped out at the food line. There was a lot of talking and joking between them and the homeless, several of whom knew all about the group.

“Oh yeah, they love the pirates,” Amber says with a laugh. “They look forward to that day.”

“The nice thing is, though, every time they say to us, ‘God bless you’ or ‘thank you,’ we say, ‘No, thank you for eating with us,’” Ron adds. “If it’s a warmer night, we can really get the whole crowd going with jokes about everything under the sun.”

“That’s always been my philosophy with helping the homeless,” continues Amber. “You are allowing us to help you. And, it’s fun.”

With a core group of seven buccaneers and as many as 12 available, Pirates of Reno volunteer their time at many events, including the Celtic Celebration, renaissance fairs in northern California, the Nevada Day Parade and the MS Walk.  They also work with We Care Volunteers to groom hair or beards for the homeless twice a year.

Pirates Help the Homeless in Reno
Renown employee Sam Tower, at far right, helps serve food during a recent Pirates of Reno night organized by We Care Volunteers at downtown Reno’s Morris Burner Hotel.

And, it’s not just the homeless that they affect.

Sam talked about giving away “turtle tears” – little green glass art objects – to children at renaissance fairs, telling them that it will take away scary dreams if they put it under their pillow.

“It’s something nice you don’t have to pay for,” Ron says of the group’s interaction and toys for kids at the fairs. “They can take home something from the pirates and show their parents: ‘See what I’ve got? I’m a pirate now!’ ”

But, it’s the weekly homeless feeds that are clearly close to their hearts. Sam has also taken it up a notch by organizing food drives for We Care Volunteers (the next is slated for February).

While they all agree that the costume-making and performing in public suits them well, they also say helping the community is the most important part of being in Pirates of Reno. To that end, Sam says they are very picky about who joins the group.

“We really want people who are going to participate,” he adds. “We want to see you more than once.”

Fellow pirate Ron brought that into even sharper relief: “We don’t just want to see you at the next party. We want you to be there when we do a coat drive or take donations or feed the homeless.”

The pirates also support stealing, as long as it’s other pirates doing the pilfering. That is, giving other groups ideas for community work. Sam and Ron said that pirate groups in Seattle and California are doing work for the homeless, while Sam mentioned a certified nursing assistant and pirate in Portland, Ore., who organizes a yearly pirate show for residents at a nursing facility.

Behind the accents and wild clothes, though, there is one message, unspoken but clear, that comes through when the Pirates of Reno help out those less fortunate or bring a smile to a child.

“Having us do something for people, it makes them realize that they are really worth it,” Sam says.


  1. They're still out there....every week. And you know...they're just a wonderful group of people. Amber is a Saint. The rest are all sinners. But they're all good and wonderful people. Three beers for the Reno Pirates!!!
  2. I love being in the Pirates of Reno! I am turning 14 years old soon. But there are younger kids than me within this group. They love helping out the people. I say yay for helping!!! Thank you Pirates!!!!!!!!!!
  3. I thought this was one of the most inspiring articles about Reno I have read for quite a while. Helping others is what all of us should be doing. Remember the words of Jesus, "Whom so ever helps another, helps me." Its a positvely good feeling.