When Every Meal Matters
Church Program Blesses Both Guests and Volunteers
Citrus Heights, CA (MPG) - On nearly every Wednesday of the year, Holy Family Catholic Church hosts dinner for from 50 to 80 homeless or in-need guests. The program brings those who can provide a good meal together with those who really need one.
Nora Martinez started the Holy Family Wednesdays in 1991, but had her first exposure to feeding the needy in the 1980s. Coming home from church she said to her husband, “We go to church, we go to prayer meeting, but we’re really not doing the Lord’s work. We’re really not visiting the sick, or feeding them.” The following week, her prayer group forwarded her a letter saying that a soup kitchen was opening up downtown. Martinez’s group was invited to the meeting and was the first to serve when that kitchen, Loaves & Fishes, opened. She helped there for five years.
After another five year stint in North Highlands, where she started another kitchen, Martinez began the program at Holy Family Catholic Church. That was nearly 27 years ago. Martinez, 84, and the program are still going strong.
Stories abound of things that have happened on their Wednesdays. Martinez tells of a huge bowl of salad – it had everything but bananas. A couple of volunteers were driving to the church that day when a box fell off a truck in front of them. They stopped to get it out of the road, and threw it in the back of the car, unable to catch the truck. When they opened it up at the church, it was full of bananas.
Cook Grace Ngatia said a man who came seemed ashamed to take the free meal, in spite of volunteers’ efforts to reassure them. After a couple of months the family stopped coming, but three months later the man came back. “Remember me? You used to feed me here,” the man said. “At that time I had just lost my job.” The man pulled out some money and said, “I can help with the next meals, can you use $70? You helped me through when I was having a hard time.”
One of the regular guests is Thomas Cooper, who has been homeless for 45 years. “This program is good,” Cooper said. “I’ve been going here for over 25 years. It’s a long time.” This is the only place locally he knows he can get a hot dinner each week.
All those in need are welcomed at Holy Family Catholic Church, no questions asked, no one turned away. Besides the hot meal, volunteer Ron Schaefer picks up donations each week of produce, canned goods, and baked goods donated by stores and restaurants in Citrus Heights and surrounding areas. The program gives these to guests attending the dinners.
Volunteers from many different churches or no church at all help with the program. Martinez still cooks for the program, and her “sidekick,” as she calls Ngatia, helps her. “She’s wonderful,” Martinez said. “She loves to cook, so when she came to help it was a blessing.” On a recent Wednesday, 85 homeless or needy men, women, and children received dinner and additional food. Around 16 volunteers helping that day found the project on JustServe.org and joined the 15 volunteers who serve there regularly, such as Martinez, Ngatia, and Schaefer.
You can sign up to volunteer for the Holy Family Catholic Church Food Service to the Needy project by going to the JustServe website at https://www.justserve.org/projects/c26eaa1b-31c7-48a3-99f6-2fb6311ea6f7. Or go to www.justserve.org and enter your town or zip code to find a variety of projects and ways to serve in your community.
Holy Family Catholic Church is located at 7817 Old Auburn Rd., Citrus Heights. The program is closed only on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year.