Last Updated on Sunday, 03 April 2011 23:26 Saturday, 12 March 2011 14:10
This post is the first in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors. Click here to read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it!
American leaders, policy makers and social action groups received a wake-up call last year when the Department of Agriculture reported a record high 49 million Americans “who lived in households that lack consistent access to adequate food.”
Lack of money forces family members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food. Others rely on government aid like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), the National School Lunch Program, or visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.
In July 2010 the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty revealed a 26% increase in the need for food assistance, with 25% of those needs going unmet.
FOCUS North America takes seriously the revelation of Christ’s own words that “Whenever you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me … I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”
FOOD assistance is only one of the elements of our national initiative to restore and renew those who are living in poverty to a place of health, stability and recovery. Serving hot, nutritious meals for free is often our first introduction to our needy neighbors.
Our FOCUS Orange County center may be located in beautiful Southern California and smack in the middle of one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, but with one in five Californian families struggling to have enough food according to the most recent report by the Food Research and Action Center, it is also in an area where people are desperate for help. Neighboring Riverside County reported that 26% of its residents did not have enough money to buy the food they needed, making it the second highest metropolitan county in America for food needs. Nearby Fresno County had the highest percentage in the nation, with 27% of its residents going hungry.
FOCUS OC Director Jacob Lee and a team of volunteers are working hard to make sure that needy families living at the Valencia Inn have access to emergency food assistance through its food pantry and at least one hot, nutritious meal each week through its free Sunday dinner served family-style right at the motel. Between 100-150 people are served each week.
The Valencia Inn is home to 350 transitionally homeless individuals. They can’t make enough money to put a deposit on an apartment, often have exhausted other resources for shelter with family and friends, and want to avoid homeless shelters because they aren’t able to stay together as a family.
Lee said that in addition to the obvious barrier to food—lack of money—are the additional barriers of a lack of education about nutrition, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and pride.
“When people are high they can’t make a good choice about getting food for themselves or their families,” Lee said. “And sometimes people are just too proud to show up and ask for help.”
The problem with these barriers to getting necessary food assistance is that children often are at the mercy of the adults that are supposed to be taking care of them.
Lee said that when Sally’s 4th birthday was approaching, a couple of volunteers wanted to do something special for her.
“Her family usually comes to the Sunday night meals,” Lee said. “One volunteer from St. Luke’s Antiochian Church brought her a present and another volunteer from St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church made her a birthday cake.”
But when the meal was being served, Sally’s family wasn’t there. “I asked the motel manager what room the family was in so that we could give Sally her birthday present and cake,” Lee said. “When we got to the door and told them it was us, Sally’s mom decided to bring Sally down to have dinner and birthday cake.”
Lee said the hard part about families in these dire circumstances is that their children go without. “If we hadn’t knocked on their door Sally wouldn’t have eaten that night,” Lee said.
Each FOCUS Center begins its community outreach with providing the basic need of FOOD. It is where we begin, but it is only one element of our mission to bring people to full life recovery. Perhaps by helping meet the immediate need of filling an empty stomach, we can step further with our neighbor along this path of recovery.
For the second article in this Lenten series click here!
For the third article in this Lenten series click here!
For the fourth article in this Lenten series click here!
FOCUS NA operates regular meal services for the homeless and working poor at each of its locations: FOCUS OC, FOCUS San Diego, FOCUS Central Florida, FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis, FOCUS Kansas City, FOCUS Minnesota, FOCUS Pittsburgh. It also works closely with partner ministries to bolster their efforts in meeting the needs of people in their communities.
Click here to see how a FOCUS NA grant enabled one small Pennsylvania church to double the amount of food assistance it provides for needy families in its town.