This past holiday I wanted to volunteer to serve the under-served at one of the lesser known, less marketed organizations and I found this in Santa Monica on a Thursday in November as hundreds descended upon the lot of the St Anne Church located in Santa Monica.Lori McCreary along with Tim McGrath and a small group of college friends at Vineyard Christian Fellowship took an idea, a thought and created what has now become an annual day of giving in Santa Monica.
Since 1983 they have been providing meals, clothing and care to homeless individuals and families as well as the underserved. This past 2013, they served 3000 with 2300 volunteers. They anticipate 90% with no homes and 90% with no families. They had been using the Civic Center where they were able to provide medical care, hair care and hot food. Due to several constraints at the Civic Center they were graciously allowed to have the one day event at St. Anne’s in Santa Monica.
People gathered around 4am many traveling from the Civic Auditorium to St Anne’s for what would be a day of food and care. Interestingly enough, the lines for the volunteers seemed just as long as those waiting in line for food and clothing. One volunteer, Kat Cressida is a professional voice over talent who has dedicated the past xx years to helping and diligently located Lori and the group to donate more of her time as a lead volunteer this year. For her this day of giving ‘balances out’ with her self-involved ego centric industry. As she states, “It feels good to let go of that (and realize) so many who are not as blessed.”
While space was limited and food had to be sandwiches versus hot meals, this group still made it happen. Even with limitations, they were able to cater to those who came by providing a seated experience where being served by volunteers. Volunteers such as Denise Tolliver,’s Exotic Hair Now, group of 10 volunteers served turkey sandwiches, chips, fruit and yogurt along with cold and hot drinks and pie.
The theme of serving those who are under-served was carried over to the clothing area where anyone could have a ‘personal stylist’ volunteer who would walk with them through the clothing, shoes, and household linens. There were no limits on what people could take and yet just like the abundance of food for everyone there was plenty for everyone.
The underserved were also able to have a shopper who would take them through a clothing maze of items from shoes, to blankets to suits. No limits to what they wanted.
I found that they only took what they wanted – no over indulgences.
I sat with a man with HIV who gave me a valuable lesson. He said he lived nearby and that he had a clean bill of health from the Aids from medicine, and yoga but he had other ailments including an accident that left him wheelchair bound. His eyes were beautifully clear and if asked if could sing a lovely bass rendition of amazing grace. Behind his clear eyes were stories of a sister on crack and another sister with breast cancer and yet he had a wonderful disposition.
So many stories of life like the woman who had three daughters all under 8 who came to get some clothing and enjoy a great meal.
In addition to the meal and entertainment, there was a prayer wall and also a place to send handmade holiday cards while being entertained by different musical entertainers.
This year due to space constraints they were unable to provide hair stylists and medical care onsite. This did not stop one barber who has been committed to doing this annually. Even though he was unable to secure a spot on the church site he set up outside of the gates, "no one is going to stop me from helping these people. His emotional cries of “A haircut could help one of them get a job” made a lot of sense and restrictions of space and people constraints were not going to stop him.
While the event is meant to help those with less, it is as much about the hundreds of volunteers who have made this part of their Thanksgiving ritual. Tim, one of the owners, has a son who attends this annually. They started initially as an ‘opportunity for God to use this group to influence. He is an Executive who commits each year to Thanksgivingwith the 1000s served and his family and son who has been participating for the past 22 years know the importance of this event.
The hope is to open the doors to more in need and locate on a larger campus. The goal is to have those who donate their time to leave filling more filled than depleted.
Their belief is that every donation is a chance to bless others. And I think yearly they achieve this. Mark your calendars for next year - http://www.westsidethanksgiving.org/.