Gearing up for a season of giving

Christian Javier ladles gravy onto a plate during Thanksgiving

With more mouths to feed than ever before, St. Joseph’s Family
Center is counting on the enduring generosity of the South County
community to get the center
– and the families it serves – through the holidays.
Food Distribution Coordinator Vicky Martin and a cadre of loyal
volunteers face a daunting task: coming up with 1,400 turkeys
during the next two months.
With more mouths to feed than ever before, St. Joseph’s Family Center is counting on the enduring generosity of the South County community to get the center – and the families it serves – through the holidays.

Food Distribution Coordinator Vicky Martin and a cadre of loyal volunteers face a daunting task: coming up with 1,400 turkeys during the next two months.

“It’s an astronomical number that’s hard to fathom,” Martin said. “But the community always comes through.”

St. Joseph’s is aiming to provide 700 families with holiday meal baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The baskets include all the fixings for a hearty holiday meal, all the way down to the cranberry sauce.

In the five years Martin has been an employee at St. Joseph’s, she’s seen the number of families and homeless individuals taking advantage of the center’s lunches and food baskets double.

“When I first started, a busy day for us was 25 or 30 families coming in for groceries and 40 coming in for lunches,” she said.

These days, the center hands out an average of 80 grocery baskets and 80 lunches daily.

The need of the community may have doubled, but so has the generosity. Instead of tossing its leftovers, more and more grocery stores are donating them to St. Joseph’s.

“The good part of the downturn is that it makes people more aware,” Martin said. “Nobody wants to throw anything away. It’s a natural human response to want to give.”

Whether it’s time or food, the donations continue to roll in.

Frank Gieselman, a retired chiropractor who has been gardening at his San Martin home for years, used to feed his leftover crops to his animals. That changed when he read about St. Joseph’s needs in the bulletin at St. Mary. The notice encouraged parishioners to keep the needs of the community in mind by planting an extra row or two of crops in their vegetable gardens.

“Nothing goes to waste,” Gieselman said. “I just take everything I can and give it away.”

Driving through Gilroy and San Martin, Gieselman cringes when he sees fruit ripening, over-ripening and then rotting on the ground.

“A lot of it can be given away,” he said.

Gieselman delivers five or six pails of tomatoes, grapes and other produce to St. Joseph’s at a time and encourages his fellow community members to do the same. Despite the amount of donations St. Joseph’s receives, fresh produce is wiped out almost immediately, Martin said.

Since the economic downturn, the family center has increased its focus on providing families with fresh fruits and vegetables – expensive items that are often the first to go on a struggling family’s grocery list.

“People’s food choices become very poor or very nutritionally deficient,” Martin said. “Fresh is not always the easiest to afford.”

Unfortunately, the dollar menu at fast food chains rarely list foods that include fresh produce, Martin pointed out. With that in mind, St. Joseph’s has launched a bimonthly farmers market that typically serves about 400 families in a three-hour period.

St. Joseph’s has already distributed 15,000 pounds of fresh produce to its families. Much of the produce comes from local farms and families leave lugging bags of fruits and vegetables they never would have been able to afford at the supermarket. That sight makes Martin smile.

And even though coming up with enough food to fill all 1,400 holiday meal baskets will be a challenge, she has faith the community will deliver.

“Every year we get a little panicked, but every year they show up,” she said. “We are so fortunate. South County, Gilroy is so generous. It’s amazing.”

***

What to donate:

– turkeys, frozen or fresh

– stuffing

– cranberry sauce

– yams

– fresh produce

– flour, sugar, oil

– year-round needs: baby diapers, especially larger sizes; socks

How to register to receive a holiday box:

– Bring identification, proof of residency in Gilroy or San Martin and proof that income is below the federal poverty level to St. Joseph’s between Nov. 1 – 5

Where to donate:

St. Joseph’s Family Center, 7950 Church St., #A or call 842-6662

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