Family to Family: Come and eat!
The volunteers are part of Family to Family, an outreach project that has provided hot lunches for the homeless and needy for more than 26 years, and weekend hot breakfasts for 22 years. Founded during tough economic times in February 1983 by Lee Ann McSorley, then a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Ventura, it began as a small group serving meals from a back room at Mission San Buenaventura.
"It was a bit different in those days," recalls Pat McLean, Family to Family president and one of the organization's earliest members. "We would bring our casseroles and our coolers and set up in a little room at the old Mission church, and we would serve from that back room. We literally just went out to the street and said 'We've got some good food - come on in and eat.'"
Word got out to the many homeless and needy, and within a few months the group - calling themselves "Family to Family" - found that they needed a larger space from which to serve their meals. Over the next 15 years they would move to various locations in western Ventura, finally signing a lease for space in the Catholic Charities community center on Ventura Avenue in 1996, the same year in which Family to Family incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Growth and involvement
For the next two years the group raised funds and oversaw the construction of a commercial kitchen and dining room that would provide a space for preparing and serving hot meals beginning in February 1998.
McLean, a parishioner of Mission San Buenaventura, has been president of Family to Family since 1986. She has seen this all-volunteer organization grow from a small group serving meals twice per week into an interfaith coalition of 29 groups representing many Ventura County communities, serving five days per week and over 52,000 meals per year.
Those who come for meals range from young parents with toddlers to seniors. Their stories are as varied as their ages, with some living in their car or van, some staying with family or friends while they search for work, and some who have been homeless for quite some time. Some arrive by bicycle, some on foot. Some may have low-paying jobs and inadequate money to feed their families.
The one thing they all have in common is a respect for the service they are provided and for the space in which they dine. The diners, McLean says, are gracious and appreciative to the volunteers serving the meals.
"We know that for some, this is all they eat during the week," she points out. "We've known that for years. But that is what we are here for. We ask no questions of anyone. If they're willing to stand in line for a meal, they are welcome."
McLean's words are reflected in Family to Family's mission statement:
"Every human being has dignity and deserves respect, regardless of the circumstances of his or her life; and to that end, Family to Family is dedicated to serving hot, nourishing meals to those in need."
While all of the food is donated and prepared by organizations and their volunteers, Family to Family has administrative expenses that still need to be covered, including the cost of the lease, insurance, utilities, janitorial services, maintenance and repairs. Additionally, Family to Family provides all the pots, pans, utensils, paper goods and cleaning supplies for groups to use in preparing meals.
Much of the revenue to cover these expenses comes in the form of checks from participating churches, and some is made through annual fundraisers, including an outdoor barbecue at a local park.
"Our costs run about $50,000 per year," explains NJ Windroth, Family to Family treasurer, and parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption. "People think we are a part of Catholic Charities because we are located here, but we are not, and we do not receive operating funds from them. We appreciate any donations people wish to make to Family to Family, as costs continue to rise."
McLean says she is amazed not just by the growth of the program, but by the continual stream of volunteers and food that comes into the kitchen each week. There is always enough food for whoever comes through the door.
"This is the Lord's program," she says. "It always has been."
Family to Family: Multi-church involvement
The Family to Family outreach involves more than two dozen sponsoring churches and organizations in Ventura County.
Participating Catholic parishes include: Mission San Buenaventura, Our Lady of the Assumption and Sacred Heart, Ventura; St. Mary Magdalen and Blessed Junípero Serra, Camarillo; St. Thomas Aquinas, Ojai; St. Sebastian and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Paula; and the Home Breakfast Group --- St. Jude and St. Maximilian Kolbe, Westlake Village, and St. Paschal Baylon, Thousand Oaks, as well as the Notre Dame Club of Ventura County.
Other participants include Temple Beth Torak Brotherhood, Ventura Baptist Church, Coastline Bible Church, Altrusa International, Sathya Sai Babe Center (of Ojai, Ventura and Thousand Oaks), Trinity Lutheran Church, Olivet Baptist Church, Ojai Presbyterian Church, St. Paul Episcopal Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Missionary Church, College United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church, An Lac Mission, First Presbyterian Church, and First Assembly of God Church.
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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
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