Generosity abounds during the holiday season and there’s no better example than the St. Joseph’s Family Center Thanksgiving Food Basket Day, where hundreds of disadvantaged families receive free groceries, taking the worry out of shopping on a limited budget for the biggest food holiday of the year.
“We’re planning to do about 800 families for Thanksgiving,” says Vicky Martin, Director of Community Engagement for St. Joseph’s.
From its conception in 1981 St. Joseph’s operated under the auspices of the Diocese of San Jose. In 2002 their Board of Directors established the organization as an independent 501 (c)3 organization, which has helped the organization serve the community in countless ways.
“That’s when we really took off,” Martin says. “It opened us up to grow leaps and bounds by having government support.”
This year on Nov. 21, preregistered families will line up in the doorway of St. Mary’s auxiliary room, (next door to St. Joseph’s), which is transformed into a makeshift grocery store.
Staff and volunteers will fill the shopping carts with canned goods, bread, eggs, milk, as well as all the makings for a holiday meal, including the turkey.
Soon the room will fill with laughter as volunteers present the carts filled with boxes of food weighing up to 100 pounds to the waiting families.
“It’s a very fun event because you know you’re doing something good, you know you’re helping a lot of people,” Martin says.
The experience is equally rewarding for volunteers. Martin recently heard from William F. James Boys Ranch, in Morgan Hill, who volunteered at the food give away for the first-time last year. The representative told Martin that in his 27 years as a probation officer, he’d never had an experience quite like it.
“It was eye opening for the boys,” he told Martin, adding, “It changed their outlook to not being so self-absorbed, learning that there are people outside their circle that are in trouble and need help,” he’d said, which is why he plans to make volunteering at St. Joseph’s a yearly event.
Martin understands why the nearly 300 dedicated volunteers come back year after year.
“You just feel that’s the reason that there’s Thanksgiving,” says Martin. “If I didn’t do that I don’t think Thanksgiving would mean the same to me.”
“We’re all one illness, or one loss of a job away from needing this support. It is truly a privilege to be able to do this because we could very easily be on the receiving end. You feel good to be able to support your neighbor or your friend, and so many of them are our friends, and they’re so grateful.”
Also willing to help serve those in need is volunteer Lupe Miramontes, who along with his wife, Catherine, have volunteered for the past five years three nights a week, every week, in St. Joseph’s program, The Lord’s Table, another of the innumerable services provided by St. Joseph’s.
“The Lord’s Table goes year-round, volunteers work 4-7pm, preparing, serving and cleaning up,” says Martin. “But on Thanksgiving and Christmas day, on the day of, they actually serve a noon meal.” Up to 300 people are served at the holiday meals, he adds.
“We enjoy it here, on Thanksgiving Day,” Miramontes says. “I’m excited to come cook, we cook like 24 to 28 turkeys. We start the day before.”
“We have a lot of families, they come and just to see the happy families it makes me feel very happy that I do something for the community.”
Gilroy resident, Raquel Marquez, 67, agrees.
“It’s beautiful, they set up the tables like a restaurant, and there’s all kinds of food, it’s buffet style, so they get what they want,” says Marquez. “It feels like we make it special.”
“I love the feeling you get when you’ve done something like that. They’re grateful that people care.”
Martin, now in her 15th year with St. Joseph’s, says the food give away has been going on longer than her tenure which she credits to the community’s generosity.
“I absolutely love this community and the support that it gives,” Martin says. “I think it’s because we’re such a close-knit community that we take care of each other. All we have to do is ask, and people respond.”
Thanks to Second Harvest Food Bank, countless local retailers, the Rotary Clubs, and the community itself, donations are readily available, but never as much as during the holidays. Martin’s request is that the community’s generosity continue long after the holiday season.
“Come January it gets really quiet here,” Martin says. “We still need donations, it goes year-round, hunger lasts all year.”
For more information on St. Joseph’s Family Center, or to volunteer/donate go to: stjosephsgilroy.org.