Update (May 15, 2020): Download latest Press Release
The Food Mission at St. James persists during this difficult time, and seems even strengthened, despite the crisis of the pandemic. None of the work has ever been possible, however, without the spirited support of the larger congregation. Clearly, that support will be challenged during this terrible time of economic strain. So we volunteers want to take a moment to let you know how we are going about the work of this mission, and how we intend to remain good stewards of resources in this trying time. Inspiration for the work flows from many sources, not least of which is the resilience of those we serve.
As regards Soup Kitchen, you probably know that until the quarantine orders were in place, we were serving about 70 or 80 people on Fridays, in the Parish Hall. The events were increasingly characterized by a lovely sense of community, embellished by musical events, a social hour preceding dinner, the capacity to distribute donated clothes including most recently over 2000 clean socks gathered by the Scouts and students at St. James School. All of this has come to a standstill, of course. Almost over night, we reconfigured the process of cooking and serving to accommodate strict adherence to Safe Practices. We split up cooking into shifts so that no more than three people are in the Kitchen at any one time. We stopped all sit-down dinners to avoid large crowds and established a new routine: grab-and-go bags with hot meals and beverages included. We hand out the meals at two points, one on Wilshire and one on St. Andrews to ensure safe distancing.
Our loyal friends who come to Kitchen have been overwhelmingly grateful, compliant to all the new rules, never complaining, grateful beyond measure. We’ve served more people than ever, often over 100 meals. One guy, when he picked up his bag, exclaimed, “Wait, it’s a HOT meal?!?!”
You may also know that the majority of veteran volunteers at Soup Kitchen are senior citizens. So it has been a wonderful development that a whole new team of young people has stepped up to the plate to prepare and serve in the meanwhile. All of us, young and old, gather by conference call every Tuesday to go over the process, troubleshoot issues, get the latest news on “the regulars”, and refine plans for the coming week. In important ways, this call is our secret ingredient: relationship is at the heart of the matter, still and always.
The Shower Project you may know less about. It is only a few months old, but it too persists. A van from the non-profit organization Showers of Hope gets pulled into the church parking lot every Saturday morning. It’s an ingenious device, containing four private shower stalls that only need a garden hose hookup and a regular electrical outlet to function. The Showers of Hope team manages the van, including complete sanitation between every shower. Volunteers at St. James provide gracious hosting for all who come, including breakfast, access to the restrooms, and clean clothes from our Donated Clothes Closet. Before the quarantine, we were serving between 15 and 20 people. But the quarantine required the closing of resources critical to the survival of people living on the street–city libraries, private gyms, and restaurants. Suddenly, our project was the last place standing. Since the quarantine began, over 40 people have come for showers every Saturday. As at Soup Kitchen, the gratitude of those we serve is unending. Even when the clothes supply runs out, or the coffee gets cold. The contribution of a hot shower to personal hygiene and continued health is, of course, huge.
Also as at Kitchen, however, we’ve had to turn to younger people to take over and the response has been also awesome. A new crew of volunteers who live near St. James, including leaders Nick Price and Dan Donohue, have taken on the shower project. They run a tightly organized ship of recruitment, training, and monitoring of volunteers. We need six volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Suddenly, we are getting offers from over twenty young people every week, most of it by word of mouth from people who’ve heard how great are the homeless services at St. James. In keeping with the St. James spirit, one of the most important lines in the introductory email sent to all volunteers says this: One of the best parts of coming to Shower of Hope is getting to know the people. Such a great way to capture the spirit of St. James, ensuring continuity even in the midst of uncertainty.
As a final but critical note, we thought you would be reassured to see a few words about finances. In an effort to better understand our actual costs, a year ago we took a deep dive into records of costs for Soup Kitchen food and supplies for the calendar year 2018. From that investigation, we learned that we were spending about $1,200 per month on Food Kitchen alone. Beginning in 2019, we made substantial changes to our practices to try to rein in those costs. We connected with Seeds of Hope to receive free fresh produce in large quantity. We revised weekly menus with an eye for cost without compromising quality. By this time last year, we were spending less than $540 per month. We are confident that those savings continue to this day. In addition, we are taking advantage of support from the larger community during this time of crisis, applying for new grants offered by local foundations. We just this week received a check for $2,500 from United Way. We are exploring more options like that one, and so are our new young volunteer friends. We even think we can expand what we do, offering a second Soup Kitchen day, in cost-neutral ways. The outpouring of generosity in our city is breathtaking, chaotic and huge, and we want to play a role in corralling that generosity, precisely because St. James as a community is so good at what it already does: ensuring, safely and reliably, that our unhoused neighbors remain nourished–in all ways.
The volunteers work hard, but none of it would ever happen without a building in which to do it. And while it begins with bricks and mortar, it’s the spirit that emanates from the building that really makes it work. Thank you, sincerely and deeply, to Reverend Kate, to Father Jon, Father Kim, Father Koh, Alex, Eugene, Lauren, Delicia, the security guards, Peter Reinke and the staff and kids at St. James School …and to the entire congregation of St. James, for all you are doing to make this mission possible in the time of Coronavirus.