By Neil Earle
“And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you and naked and clothe you? And the King will answer, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 38-40).
It’s winter and its cold out there – even here in California at night.
This is one reason a coalition of Christians and churches have been banding together in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles for decades. They want to do something about the growing homeless population.
But consider this.
Churches and organized denominations are under some tough scrutiny in our generation. Books have appeared with titles such as They Love Jesus but Not the Church and the Barna Research Group regularly publishes statistics and surveys showing how church attendance – while still high compared to other countries – is declining.
Of course, the church itself is responsible for some of this bad publicity as we well know. But then again it is refreshing to learn what churches are actually doing in fulfillment of Jesus’ commands to shine His light into the many dark corners abounding today (Matthew 5:14). “Redeem the time,” says St. Paul,”because the days are evil.” Today, I want to tell you about two church-led organizations that are doing a lot about homelessness and poverty in East Los Angeles and have been doing so for years.
As best I can find out, the oldest of these is the East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless (ESGVCH), organized as early as the 1960s according to one of their volunteers whom I chatted with on a cold winter night in Glendora.
Beginning on December 1 this year and ending on March 1 six Catholic and Protestant churches provide beds, meals and next-day lunches for the homeless. They are reached by buses that the Coalition operates or the local churches operate and use for that purpose. Two years ago I attended St Dorothy’s Catholic Church in Glendora and helped serve meals prepared by the ladies of the parish and other volunteers. That was a cold night. Some 200 people showed up that night in December, 2012.
This year on January 14 I showed up at Glenkirk Presbyterian Church and 175 people were helped with food and lodging and buses that would take them back to their drop-off places the next day. I’m not saying this to glorify myself but to comment on the jobs these wonderful Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. people are doing and have been doing for years. Some creative souls even offered manicure and pedicure services for those who would use them. It was a great honor to serve among them and also to work alongside church pre-teens and teens who are conscripted willingly for this service.
The homeless are greatly heartened by the presence of these smiling young people, as was I. At Glenkirk, Chick-fil-A provided the chicken sandwiches that night and the delicious smells were motivating for those of us servers who couldn’t partake along with our special guests. It was not our night.
In early January at long last I visited the modest regional headquarters of ESGVCH in Hacienda Heights south of the Valley. Over the years this is the place people come for sleep and food over the weekends. The Coalition has its own sturdy warehouses for used clothing and food storage and a functional office – no frills. They are greatly assisted by the presence of spacious, well-organized St. John Vianney Church next door. They had served 220 people the night before I came.
Further east in an area we call the Inland Empire comes what I refer to as the Pomona Shelter, something our local congregation has been supporting financially for years. Our elder Miles Johnson, who died just year ago, was a navy veteran and California Edison employee very handy with tools and he found out they needed some maintenance assistance. I remember Miles taking me to the Foothill Family Shelter in Uplands which provides transitional housing for single and two-parent families. It is not an emergency one-night shelter but an ongoing year-round program. The Shelter accommodates seven families in two-bedroom apartments which have fully furnished rooms, cooking, shower and laundry facilities are offered and drugs and alcohol are prohibited.
They offer full-service programs such as:
These are truly “hands on” opportunities for the vulnerable people in our city who have a hard time keeping up in the face of some severe personal shocks. Most are just like the rest of us homeowners and apartment dwellers but some unexpected reverse has forced them to leave home, or worse. The Foothill Family Shelter has an Upland office at 909-920-0453. The East San Gabriel number is 626-333-7204.
God bless these volunteers who keep these vital programs running. It isn't easy since government funding keeps getting cut for these programs. But thank God that every day in every way someone is being helped because Christians feel motivated to care and share. And that’s just some of the things churches do.