The Warmth of Food, Love and Perseverance: Ventura, CA
It’s a fall morning in Ventura, California. While most of the county is still quiet, Total Life Christian Center is humming with activity. Volunteers from Sri Sathya Sai Centers of Camarillo and Ojai are busy making burritos and coffee, and assembling food bags for the homeless. They work fast yet with the kind of comfortable ease that comes from years of practice.
The Family-to-Family service project started in 1983 by The First Church of God in Christ by long time Sai devotee, LeeAnn Lajoie and her friend, Candy. Struck by the homelessness in Ventura, they baked casseroles and put them out on tables inside the church for the hungry. Candy sat in her wheelchair and held LeeAnn’s youngest child on her lap, while they both waited patiently. When no one came in, they moved the tables to the sidewalk in front of the church and served people on the streets. Nearly 40 years later, 24 different groups have joined the Family-to-Family project and now serve five days a week at a nearby Catholic Charities dining hall - totaling 50,000 meals each year.
Since 1985, other Sai volunteers have joined LeeAnn on the first Saturday of every month to cook and serve pancakes, cereal and coffee to about 150 patrons. When COVID-19 shut everything down, Sai volunteers showed the same perseverance that LeeAnn and Candy showed in 1983. They still meet the first Saturday of every month to pack 72 to-go bags with burritos, fruit, chips, granola bars, water, along with a napkin in each bag. This time, they also brought sweatshirts and socks to keep people warm as the nights get cold.
At 8:00 am, patrons line up by the first counter to get their food bags and warm clothing before moving to the next counter to get a hot cup of coffee. As they come up, Sai volunteers greet them with the warmth and familiarity of old friends; after all, they have seen many of them for years. The guests sit in the parking lot and enjoy their food, occasionally returning for a second cup of coffee. Some wait because they know that if there are any bags left after 8:40 am, they can go up for seconds. By 9:00 am, volunteers have distributed all the food bags, 62 sweatshirts, and 55 pairs of socks. As they clean up and depart, their friends in the parking lot wave a warm good-bye. They all leave, with the hope that, someday soon, they would be able to go in, sit down with their friends, and enjoy pancakes.
One Sai volunteer said “We enjoy coming here and being part of this monthly breakfast service. Over the years it has taught me many lessons, the biggest one is to love all and see the divine in everyone that we serve.”