More needy this year

Local charity organizations do their best to feed growing numbers of homeless and poverty-stricken

SUCH IS THE CASE <br>Bill Such, director of the Jesus Center, Chico’s long-running soup kitchen, says the number of meals served to the local poor is up sharply over last year.

Bill Such, director of the Jesus Center, Chico’s long-running soup kitchen, says the number of meals served to the local poor is up sharply over last year.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

During this season of compassion, there is bad news and good news about the hungry in the Chico area.

The bad news is that the number of hungry people has shown a dramatic increase over last year.

The good news is that the Jesus Center, primarily; the Salvation Army; and the Chico Community Shelter are meeting the challenge of supplying enough free food.

Bill Such, director of the Jesus Center, said that his count after 11 months plus a modest projection of 6,800 meals in December shows “we are up almost 22 percent on the number of meals served this year in comparison to last year (63,036). I think we will easily reach the 76,200 mark for meals served in 2005.”

Why the startling increase? “I can’t give you any scientific reason, but I do know we’re seeing more family-type people where the father has lost his job for whatever reason,” Such said. “They come down here because they may have some place to stay but not money for food. We are also seeing more single males than at any time I can remember. Further, their numbers (over 12 months) don’t match the onset of cold weather.”

The Jesus Center, located at 13th Street and Park Avenue, serves breakfast (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.) and dinner (3:30 to 4:30 p.m.) on site Monday through Saturday.

The Salvation Army, a legendary international aid icon, serves a Sunday evening meal from 5 to 6 p.m. at its church at 16th and Laurel streets. This past year, it served about 8,300 such dinners. (The Bethel African Methodist Church, located at 821 Linden St., serves a Sunday morning breakfast from 8 to 9:30 a.m.)

Also, the army offers a food box of groceries—enough to last a few days—on a pickup basis once every three months (3,135 this year) and a snack pack (1,673 this year) of high-energy foods such as sausage, peanut butter, crackers, etc. for people who drop in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The packs often assuage hunger until the Jesus Center serves, according to Major Ray Yant, the local army director.

The Chico Community Shelter, located behind Costco, serves those it shelters an evening meal on site daily except Sunday at 6 p.m., and this year will provide more than l5,000 meals, including a December projection of roughly 1,200, according to Corla Bertrand, shelter director. It also provides daily transportation to and from the Jesus Center.

“Instead of making a meal count, we simply assume from experience that those we shelter stay to eat,” Bertrand said, adding that similar to national statistics on homelessness, over 70 percent of those served at the Jesus Center are single men. Single female and male parents and their children make up the remaining 30 percent.

National statistics show that children are the fastest growing segment of homeless persons, Bertrand revealed. She added that an unknown number of people do not show up because pets, particularly dogs, are not allowed.

None of the three local primary aid centers requires guests to pass some sort of poverty or means test or fill out any type of application to qualify for free meals, but all guests must be well disposed and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It should be noted that the Catholic Ladies Relief Society and the St. Vincent de Paul Society also extend considerable help in food and groceries to the needy.

There may be a tendency on the part of many people to think of anyone who seeks aid as homeless, while in reality the broad sweep of needy people includes the working poor and low-income seniors, Such said.

The season of compassion depends to a great extent upon the generosity of churches, large-hearted contributors, and the tireless efforts of many volunteers, Bertrand said. Donations are at about the same level as they were last year, he said.