Center Provides for Those in Need

St. Joseph’s Family Center volunteer Roger Bennett prepares

St. Joseph’s to provide food baskets to needy families for
Thanksgiving and Christmas
Gilroy – A knock on the window at St. Joseph’s Family Center sends three pairs of feet into motion. Volunteer Roger Bennett answers the door – a family of seven is on the other side. Food distribution coordinator Jacqui Merriman dashes about the supply room, gathering bags of potatoes, bananas, milk, tortillas, diapers and cookies. She pushes a full shopping cart to the door where a third volunteer takes it to the family. Seven tummies will not go hungry tonight.

St. Joseph’s Family Center provides free groceries to about 40 families each day. However, with the holidays approaching, more than 700 families qualify to receive food baskets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The number is up 100 from last year – more than 350 signed up Saturday for the service.

“As much as you would like to go buy everything you need, you just can’t,” Merriman said. “(Food banks are) a lot more strapped this year because they have been sending food to Katrina (relief efforts).”

Second Harvest Food Bank provides much of the food St. Joseph’s gives to needy families and the homeless.

“This year they have had to forego a lot of the items that they were able to provide in the past,” Merriman said. “They’re not buying turkeys – they have to rely on what the community gives.”

Cranberry sauce and stuffing – Thanksgiving Day staples in many households – may be a treat in some baskets this year.

A couple times over the past few years, Merriman has had to cut back the amount of food provided to needy families each day – but the holidays are usually another story. Schools across Gilroy run can drives. Realtors have coat drives.

“The community just steps up to it,” Merriman said.

In the weeks before Thanksgiving, a transformation will take place. Slowly the storage rooms and refrigerators will fill up. Volunteers will package candy in the back.

But for now, it’s quiet. The Serra Cottage room where turkey dinners will be served on Thanksgiving is empty, save for a piano and folding chairs along the walls.

According to Merriman, ‘guardian angels’ watch over St. Joseph’s and make sure they always have enough for the holidays. One ‘angel’ pulls up every month in a pickup filled with food. Sometimes he comes twice a month.

“He refuses to give me his name,” she said. “He refuses to sign the donor registry.”

Another comes in the form of San Martin resident Bob Scholtens every Wednesday – and any other day he is needed.

After 34 years of work, Scholtens was laid off in 2001. For a few months he felt sorry for himself. But he always wanted to donate turkeys, so a few days before Thanksgiving, he brought two birds down to St. Joseph’s. Scholtens then asked Merriman when he could start volunteering.

“Come tomorrow,” she told him.

He thought he would do it for a short while.

That was four years ago.

“It just turned out to be more than a little while,” he said. “It makes me feel good. I guess this is my way of giving back.”

Growing up in the southside of Chicago during World War II, Scholtens was one of 12 children. During the holidays, they relied on the charity of family members and the church to get by.

“We never felt like it was a hand out,” he said. “That’s how you try to make people feel here.”

Taking a moment between signing for donations and sorting through clothes, Merriman said St. Joseph’s still needs donations and volunteers for Thanksgiving.

People are needed to help sort donations, box food items and carry the baskets out to cars, she said.

For information on how to help, call 842-6662.

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