The 2014 holiday season has officially arrived, and while many of us are busily planning schedules around parties and shopping, more and more of our neighbors are facing formidable food and resource shortages.
“Over the last 24 months, we’ve seen the monthly average number of people served meals in our region increase from 80,000 per month to 90,000-plus,” said Chantel Schuering, community relations director for the FIND Food Bank. “We get those numbers directly from each organization that partners with FIND to acquire food resources, and then we aggregate them here.”
Those partner organizations include almost all of the agencies who provide meals on a regular basis to those in need of food assistance. One such partner is The Well in the Desert, based in Palm Springs.
“I wish we had fewer customers, but we don’t, unfortunately,” remarked Arlene Rosenthal, president of the board at The Well. “And around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get a lot of people who don’t use our services regularly, but at the holidays, find it difficult to provide totally for themselves.”
While the realities of life can be discouraging this time of year—especially to those working to lessen the impact of hunger on a daily basis—the holidays can be a time of happiness and encouragement as well.
“We usually get about 1,500 people on Christmas Day, and these are a combination of the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes and the homeless,” Rosenthal said. “We open the doors at noon, and we have hundreds of people waiting to attend. They walk down this aisle formed by volunteers on each side who are shaking hands and high-fivin’ with the kids and seniors and the homeless. I’ve seen people in tears. It just brings out the best in everybody, and it’s become my favorite event.”
At Martha’s Village and Kitchen in Indio, the demand for holiday assistance increases as well.
“We certainly do see a huge, huge increase of folks coming on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Since they don’t have families or others to go to, they utilize our services,” said K. Magdalena Andrasevits, the president and CEO. “That’s why it’s so important that the community comes together, as they always have. So I always say thank you, thank you, thank you to the community for helping us to do what we can to help our neighbors in need.”
However, Andrasevits points out that hunger and a need for help aren’t just seasonal issues. “I probably echo every other service provider when I say that the need isn’t just at the holiday season; it is year-round.”
For Mike Thompson, executive director of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs (which also operates the NestEggg Food Bank), one focus of his organization’s holiday assistance is on people’s emotional and psychological needs.
“What I would like to call attention to is our mental-health program, and specifically, our low-to-no-cost counseling services for older adults,” Thompson said. “The holiday season can be stressful times for those living alone who might feel isolated, so we’d like to highlight this counseling program and make sure that people understand this help is available.”
Thompson also mentioned specific holiday-time events that are being held by The Center. “We’ve got a ‘Paws and Claus’ event where people can bring their pet to see Santa Claus, and that takes place (in December). These events are designed to bring people together.”
How tough is it for assistance organizations to attract needed funds today?
“You know nonprofits are always in need of funding support, whether that be in-kind donations, volunteer time or financial resources,” Thompson said. “As people begin to think about their end-of-the-year tax-giving, we like to remind them that The Center is here, and remind them of the programs we have here that benefit the valley’s LGBT community, and ask that they consider supporting us.”
We asked Schuering of FIND how concerned she and her colleagues are about the increasing demand for services.
“It’s a constant state of concern,” she said. “But when you feed 90,000-plus people a month, no single donation will make or break your effort. When demand goes up, as we’ve seen recently, we’re always trying to connect people with other resources so that food doesn’t have to be the thing they give up in their lives. We do a lot of work connecting people with the food-stamp program, for instance. Some of the crazy rumors people hear are just horrible, and it’s enough to keep them from applying for funds that are set aside for them to use for food.”
In closing, Schuering offered this sobering holiday thought. “Every month, there are tens of thousands of Coachella Valley residents going hungry. Every month. We only have 440,000 residents year-around, so if 90,000 of them are hungry every month, that’s one out of every five of our neighbors. Those are numbers that you cannot ignore.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO HELP:
FIND Food Bank: 760-775-3663; www.findfoodbank.org
The Well in the Desert: 760-327-8577; www.wellinthedesert.org
Martha’s Village and Kitchen: 760-347-4741; marthasvillage.org
LGBT Community Center of the Desert: 760-416-7790; www.thecenterps.org