Sitting at a lavishly set banquet table surrounded by loved ones enjoying a holiday meal it could be easy to forget about the less fortunate.
There are multiple nonprofit organizations in the Imperial Valley staffed by real-life heroes who make it their priority to help those in need before helping themselves. For local residents and businesses, lending a hand to them is as easy as picking up the phone or sending an email or social-media message.
Spread the Love
Maricella Moreno, the vice president of Spread the Love, described the diversity of methods the charity has to aid the needy.
“We help out the homeless community with food bags, clothing, hygiene, birth certificates, California ID’s, or anything else they ask for,” she said, explaining what goes on at the El Centro-based charity,
Spread the Love has a special year-round program reuniting the homeless with their families.
“When a homeless person comes looking to get home, we reach out to their family wherever they may be in the U.S., check if it is O.K. with them and as long as there is Greyhound (bus service), we will get them there.”
Moreno continued, “We’ve been open for four years and have helped to reunify 300 families through Greyhound.”
Volunteers at Spread the Love make Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for those in need.
“We offer ready-to-go Thanksgiving meals cooked by volunteers from the community. For Christmas, different community members help make stockings with different gifts,” Moreno said.
Spread the Love volunteers hand out meals and gifts on Thanksgiving and Christmas on the corner of Fifth Street and Park Avenue near the Salvation Army office.
Those interested in helping Spread the Love may contact the charity through its website at www.spreadthelovecharityiv.org or by calling (760) 460-4013.
The LGBT Center Serves Anyone in Need
The LGBT Center in El Centro is another nonprofit that goes out of its way to provide resources for those in need.
Amanda Venuti, board member and center volunteer, explained the organization has a “Feed the Community” event.
“We’ve been doing this since we opened the center. A misconception is that it’s only for the LGBT Community,” she said. ”It’s for everyone, not just the LGBT community. We take our leftovers and break up into teams and drive around town delivering food to anyone who looks like they need it.”
The center holds an outdoor buffet-style event on Thanksgiving at which anyone in need can get a holiday meal.
“People who come to the event can eat there or get their food to go. Events like this help us get around the stigma that we are only here to help the LGBT community. We are here to help anyone who needs it,” Venuti said.
The LGBT’s Feed the Community event will be held outside its community center on 1073 W. Ross Ave., suite E, Thanksgiving from noon-4 p.m. and is open to anyone in need.
Those interested in volunteering or receiving services from the LGBT Resource Center may visit www.ivlgbtcenter.com or call (760) 592-4066.
Calexico Neighborhood House
Cindy Alba, the executive director at the Neighborhood house in Calexico, said the organization offers a plethora services throughout the year and specific events during the holidays.
“We have a shelter for women and children with 28 beds, a preschool with a capacity of 254 children, emergency food, and a volunteer program,” she explained.
The organization is waiting to hear back from the county about its proposed contract to house more homeless, Alba added.
All are invited to participate in the regularly held workshops at the Neighborhood House on topics such as how to buy a house, how to have a successful yard sale or how to start your own business.
The Neighborhood House has a long history of providing for those in need during the holidays, Alba continued: “For more than 24 years we have cooked a meal on Thanksgiving Day for the homeless and women and children and seniors that cannot afford a meal.”
The Neighborhood House’s Thanksgiving Day meal has grown so large it is now held in Calexico’s Community Center, 707 Dool Ave., from 6-8 p.m.
Neighborhood House will host its annual Christmas Festival at Border Park after Calexico’s Christmas parade on Dec. 14. The event will include vendors, food and beverages.
“We have organized the Christmas Festival for 16 years to help raise money for the shelter and local vendors during the holidays,” Alba said.
Those interested in volunteering or receiving services at the Calexico Neighborhood House may visit www.nhclx.org or call (760) 357-6875.
I.V. Food Bank
The Imperial Valley Food Bank has been in the headlines lately after building a larger and more functional facility at 486 W. Aten Blvd. in Imperial.
“The I.V. Food Bank serves over 20,000 people a month,” noted Stephanie Campos, its executive assistant. “We help people with emergency food if need be and refer them to a distribution site closer to where they live.”
The I.V. Food Bank was designed as a warehouse to distribute food efficiently by creating 36 distribution sites throughout the Imperial Valley. Add in the other local organizations, such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, and the Food Bank’s distribution sites rise to more than 60.
Alba Sanchez, Food Bank programs manager, explained, “Our biggest program is the emergency assistance program where families qualify through their income. When people call into us looking for services, we refer them to a distribution (site).”
Because food for emergency services is not covered under the USDA program the center relies on food drives to be able to offer emergency food to families.
Sanchez said, “Our emergency food supply is low.”
The program manager explained why demand rises in the Imperial Valley during winter months, saying, “We have had a higher demand for food in the past four to five months. During the holidays demand goes up. Migrant farming families that return during the winter raise the demand.”
When asked about the Food Bank’s current food supply, Sanchez replied, “Right now, thanks to God, yes, under the USDA program we have plenty of food.”
The I.V. Food Bank has an adequate number of volunteers but could always use more. For more information regarding volunteering, donating, or receiving services visit www.ivfoodbank.com or call (760) 370-0966.
Brown Bag Rain or Shine
Through her seemingly inexhaustible service, Brown Bag Coalition founder Maribel Padilla keeps Calexico’s homeless safe from hopelessness. The Calexico based nonprofit organizes meals for the homeless every day of the year.
“On a daily basis we provide dinner, rain or shine, at Border Park,” Padilla said. “Those meals are made by volunteers on a regular basis–by individuals, businesses and churches.”
Brown Bag kicks its operations into high gear during the holidays hosting multiple meals and events during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“On Thanksgiving Day from 1 to 3 (p.m.) at Our Lady of Guadalupe Men’s Shelter we will provide haircuts, showers and clothes, like button-up shits, socks, underwear pants and shoes for the homeless.”
The shelter is located at 545 Encinas Ave.
Later on the holiday, the Brown Bag Coalition will move its festivities to Calexico’s Senior Center at 707 Dool adjacent to Community Center.
“From 3-5 p.m. we will move to the Senior Citizens Hall behind the Community Center and show the movie Coco in Spanish and serve popcorn, nachos, sodas and candy,” Padilla added.
A game of loteria from 5-7 p.m. will follow the movie. Dinner will be served to the homeless and senior citizens from 7-8:30 p.m.
Padilla said she expects attendance of at least 60.
For Christmas, the Coalition will host its annual dinner for the homeless on Dec. 21 at physician Tien Vo’s new clinic at 222 E. Cole Blvd. in Calexico.
Along with the homeless, Brown Bag invites one family from each of the 13 school districts in Calexico, two families from the Cancer Resource Center and two families from Amigos de Alejandro to the Christmas posada.
Because the Brown Bag Coalitions is constantly serving the community, it also requires constant support. Volunteers and donations are always needed, Padilla added, especially around the holidays. Those interested in supporting the nonprofit may call (760) 997-2140 or visit Brown Bag Coalition Facebook page.
This story is featured in the Nov 28, 2019 e-Edition.