750 turkeys top St. Joseph’s Christmas wish list

Volunteers Sherry and Ken Hawkes, from San Martin, and Morgan

In 15 years of Thanksgiving benevolence, St. Joseph’s broke its
own record of philanthropy.
In 15 years of Thanksgiving benevolence, St. Joseph’s broke its own record of philanthropy.

A lengthy line hugged the chain-link fence Monday leading to the St. Joseph’s Family Center when an expansive turnout of needy citizens attended the seasonal assistance Thanksgiving grocery cart giveaway.

According to office manager Grace Ramirez, the number of families has increased by 110 since last year. She said St. Joseph’s sign-up sheet was maxed out at a whopping 700, with an additional waiting list tacked to the end.

“It’s definitely a record year,” said pantry coordinator Vicky Martin, who recalled families signing up for the Thanksgiving service in early October.

As Gilroy struggles with an unemployment rate of 15.7 percent, St. Joseph’s goal this year was to give out close to 750 turkeys for Thanksgiving.

“We’re just about at what we need,” Martin said Monday.

For Saint Joseph’s, however, the joy of success has a a short life span.

With Christmas just around the corner, staff and volunteers are back to ground zero in the turkey department. With their walk-in freezer’s stash of frozen birds freshly exhausted, they now must to re-fill it with an additional 750 for Christmas.

“It will be here before you know it,” said Martin knowingly, flashing a look of concern.

“This is our highest year,” she said. “A lot of people are out of work. Also, social services refer people here if they’re out of food stamps.”

The stark numbers back Martin’s claim.

According to labor force data for the month of October by the Cities and Census Designated Places of the California Employment Development Department, the City of Gilroy has a labor force of 21,400.

Of that, 18,000 people are employed, and 3,400 people are unemployed – or 15.7 percent.

In Santa Clara County, the unemployment rate dropped from 11.1 percent to 10.6 percent for the month of October, according to the EDD.

These numbers were felt at St. Joseph’s as families began waiting as early as 8:30 in the brisk morning, to patiently stand in line to receive a single grocery cart laden with provisions such as stuffing, flour, oil, celery, sugar and more. Ramirez said the carts are valued at $80-$100.

As he pushed a cart through the dirt parking lot and helped recipient Maryjane Torres, 55, unload boxes into the trunk of her car, volunteer Randy Sargenti said the flow of people had been consistent since he got arrived at about 9 a.m.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that it’s a record year, with the economy,” he said.

Torres said she arrived at about 8:30 a.m., then left briefly to grab some coffee.

“I thought, the line shouldn’t be too bad,” she laughed.

By the time Torres got back, it had doubled.

Torres, who came to the Thanksgiving event last year, said this year had a noticeably higher turnout. She also visits the pantry twice a month, saying it keeps her over until the next.

In November alone, St. Joseph’s food assistance pantry catered to 986 families for the first half of the month. On average, the pantry service reaches almost 2,000 people monthly.

Ramirez, who has been at her post for a decade, said in the past St. Joseph’s would help about 30 people a day. For the past 10 years, she’s witnessed that figure steadily amplify, saying it has crawled as far as 89 to 100.

As she instructed other people and answered the bevy of questions continuously directed her way, the multitasking Ramirez explained it’s one turkey per family. St. Joseph volunteers do their best to pair turkey size to the number of people per household.

A steady assembly line of volunteers filed in and out of the buzzing multipurpose cottage like worker bees, grabbing goods and filling carts to the brim with holiday staples.

Volunteer David Garcia, 48, who was helping monitor the front of the line, said when he arrived at St. Joseph around 8:30 a.m., there was already a considerable person count.

“It helps them with feeding their families,” he said, glancing at the elongated row of men, women, children and elderly who had amassed and were peering inquisitively at the loads of bagged goods continuously emerging from the building.

Recipient Patty Bell, 43, who moved to Gilroy from Morgan Hill in February, arrived at 8:40 a.m. and left by 10:17 a.m.

Bell said her groceries will contribute to a large family gathering that will include around 40 people, 19 of which are grandchildren.

“It’s such a big help,” agreed a 21-year-old named Tisha, her 15-month-old son playing her in lap. “Maybe there’s more people in need,” she said. “Because I’m in need myself.”

Tisha waited and her son waited in the car for her family to return with the groceries. She, too, said the number of recipients appears to have grown.

Torres said last year, with the turkey she received, she was able to feed 25 people.

“They help a lot,” she said of the services St. Joseph provides. “The community really needs it right now.”

What to donate:

– Turkeys, frozen or fresh

– Stuffing

– Cranberry sauce

– Yams

– Fresh produce

– Flour, sugar, oil

– Baby diapers, (especially)

– Larger sizes; socks

Where to donate:

7950 Church Street, Gilroy

(408) 842-6662

How to register to receive a holiday basket:

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

Christmas baskets will be given out from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 18 at First Baptist Church on 8455 Wren Avenue.

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