Every weekday since September 2013, Mercy Coalition churches and volunteers have coordinated their resources to provide a complete and simple bag lunch for the city’s homeless and underprivileged. We consider it a deep honor to serve our friends in this way, and on average we have been blessed to hand out well over 1,000 lunches each month over this time period.
Its beauty, for many of us, is in its bald simplicity. Different churches know which days they are scheduled to supply, to volunteer, to pick up, or to distribute. And they do it faithfully week after week, carried along by a common passion for caring.
HOW IT WORKS
- We ACQUIRE food product from local churches and nonprofits.
- We ASSEMBLE lunch bags each day at the Collings Teen Center (1541 Merkley Ave.), which is permitted by the Yolo County health department for these purposes.
- We DISTRIBUTE lunch bags in a designated are at the County social services site (Jefferson Blvd.) every weekday from 11am to 11:30am.
Numerous food sources flow together to comprise the daily lunch bags. These include:
Starter bags. Since September 2013, these have been provided daily by individual West Sacramento churches, with some committing to one day a week (all Mondays, for example) and others one or two days a month (every 2nd Wednesday, etc.). These bags typically include 4-5 non-perishable, supplementary-type food items, such as bottled water, crackers, fruit cups, applesauce, granola bars, chips, cookies. Churches have resourced these lunch bags in a variety of ways – member donations, food-bank connections, targeted fundraising, budget allocations, or all of the above. Bags need to be delivered to the teen center no later than 9:30am on the day they’re to be served, altho several churches are now dropping them off the day before (the teen center closes at 5pm). At the moment, we generally need about 45 bags from the 1st to the 15th of each month, and about 60 bags from the 16th to the end of the month.
Main ingredient. Through a partnership with local pizza vendors, we have often been able to provide cold pizza in the lunches. This pizza is kept refrigerated at the teen center until its distribution. On days when pizza is unavailable, we make sandwiches to be the main ingredient in the lunches. We keep a stock of peanut butter, jelly, and bread on hand in our pantry/refrigerators at the teen center for this purpose.
Stock item. In each lunch bag we also include a stock item from the pantry we keep at the teen center. These might be canned fruit or vegetables (most of the homeless have can openers), cereal, macaroni, canned tuna, etc. This pantry is stocked through donations from individual churches/organization, canned-food drives, and our “Fill The Pantry Sunday” drive at many area churches each May.
ASSEMBLING THE LUNCHES
Each day at 9:45AM, volunteers gather at the Collings Teen Center to assemble the starter bags, main ingredients, and stock items together into full lunches. The assembly generally takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the number of volunteers and whether sandwiches need to be made. Teens and children have helped regularly, and we certainly welcome them. We are careful to adhere to County health-dept. standards in all of our preparation.
DISTRIBUTING THE LUNCHES
At 10:45AM each weekday, we transport the lunches from the teen center to the County social services offices, three blocks away at 500 Jefferson Blvd. We have a designated distribution spot there adjacent to the east (staff) parking. It’s not unusual for us to be joined by healthcare organizations, other social service representatives, CalFresh (food stamps) representatives, and other service providers. Per our MOU with Yolo County and the City of West Sacramento, we keep a count each day of how many men, women and children are served.
This daily lunch also provides a ready outlet for the distribution of other helpful items for the homeless, such as toiletries, jackets, socks, etc. Donations of these items typically go out to our friends in the lunch line within 24-48 hours.
( Note: it’s important that Coalition volunteers do not park in the staff parking, out of courtesy to our hosts).
WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
Churches or organizations
1. Provide starter bags. Your church or organization can take on the commitment of resourcing, putting together, and delivering some starter bags for a certain day of the week or month. Our attached calendar shows some of the commitments we currently have in place.
2. Fund food purchases. Monetary resources are constantly needed for pantry purchases, sandwich fixings, and supplementary food needs.
3. Recruit volunteers. In particular, we are in need of consistent volunteers for the lunch assembling hours (9:45AM to 10:45AM) each day. Volunteers are also important for transportation, administrative needs, and public relations.
4. Stage a food drive. Some churches have taken to scheduling quarterly food drives for the Mercy Coalition – a welcome supply line to this most important work (and often a galvanizing effort for the congregations).
1. Volunteer to assemble and distribute lunches. These helping hands are the key to making everything work!
2. Bring food donations. Every item donated represents one more measure of God’s love spooned out to a neighbor.
3.Cash donations. Always helpful. Checks can be sent to the Mercy Coalition c/o Lighthouse Covenant Church, 3605 Gregory Ave., West Sacramento CA 95691.