Taking care of the Coachella Valley’s homeless is no easy task—but it’s something the people at Martha’s Village and Kitchen in Indio have now been doing, and doing well, for 25 years.
Martha’s Village, as the story goes, began with a $5 donation to feed the homeless 25 years ago. The organization will be celebrating its anniversary on Saturday, March 28.
Martha’s Village and Kitchen has a transitional housing facility that can house 120 people—96 beds for homeless families with children, and 24 beds for single adults. The organization also serves 250,000 hot meals each year to anyone in need; provides child care to parents for children up to 5 years old; and offers educational and career services, as well as health-care and case management.
The organization’s primary goal is to break the cycle of homelessness for residents. During residents’ stay of up to 12 months, they are given the tools to live on their own; Martha’s Village reports a success rate of 90 percent.
Andrea Spirtos, the director of development, explained what happened at Martha’s Village after that $5 donation.
“For 10 years, it continued to grow, because the need persisted to help the homeless, and (help) people for whom food was a challenge. So for those 10 years, it continued as a food kitchen—and then we realized we weren’t helping people as much as we could,” said Spirtos. “The old saying, ‘If you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime’—that’s kind of what we do here at Martha’s Village.”
Once clients leave the facility, Martha’s Village continues to follow up to make sure the transition to living on one’s own is smooth.
“We realize that people, when they’re starting out in a job, sometimes that first and last month’s rent is hard to come by, and the security deposit is hard to come by, so we want to make sure they’re successful in their first year,” she said. “We really don’t want to have them to come back and visit us unless they’re volunteers or to donate, so we do have emergency food services, so if they’re challenged in eating, we’d rather they pay the rent and pay the utilities, and (have them) come to us for food.”
The hard work of the 60 staff members, 1,600 volunteers and residents is visible every day at Martha’s Kitchen and Village.
“We have miracles every day,” Spirtos said. “I see it in the eyes of the people who come into the building, and they’re hunched over, and the sparkle has gone out of their eyes. But … six months later, that sparkle has returned, and there’s a lightness in their step.”
Spirtos said some businesses support Martha’s Village and Kitchen by providing jobs to its residents.
“A lot of (places) like McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger … give jobs to some of the people who come through Martha’s and help them get their foot in the door in the employment path,” Spirtos said. “They might start out at the bottom, but that’s where people learn and develop. With time and enthusiasm and good training, they can grow and develop into better jobs—and it happens all the time. People here in the valley are very giving in terms of jobs for people who really want to work, and work hard.”
Martha’s Village and Kitchen does receive some government funding, but donations are crucial in order to keep operations going.
“(Federal funding) only covers about 27 percent of what it takes to keep this building and programs going,” she said. “In the summer months, we provide a cooling shelter, and that’s expensive, with all the water and electricity to keep that air conditioning going. We’re very much in need of donations to keep everything going. We’re also very thankful to FIND Food Bank for helping us keep those food supplies going.”
Their 25-year anniversary celebration, on Saturday, March 28, will be a community-picnic-themed event. DJ Craig Michaels will be providing entertainment; there will also be food vendors, a fashion show and an activities and games area.
As for the next 25 years, Spirtos said she hopes there will be an end to homelessness, both in the Coachella Valley and nationwide.
“I wish so much that there was an end to homelessness and food insecurity,” she said. “We’re a very fortunate country, and we’re a very giving valley, and I would like to see that continue to end that cycle of homelessness for good.
Martha’s Village and Kitchen’s 25th Anniversary Celebration will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 28, at 83791 Date Ave., in Indio. For more information, call 760-347-4741, or visit www.marthasvillage.org.