Giving Alms: La Jolla churches step up aid to poor

Tresha Souza (standing center), founder of So Others May Eat, Inc.,directs as Santa and volunteers distribute gifts during the agency's annual holiday dinner for the homeless and others in need at Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla.
Tresha Souza (standing center), founder of So Others May Eat, Inc.,directs as Santa and volunteers distribute gifts during the agency's annual holiday dinner for the homeless and others in need at Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla.

By Pat Sherman

Local churches and faith-based organizations are working diligently to answer requests from those in need this holiday season, in the midst of an economic downturn that shows few signs of recovery.

At St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church on Prospect Street, requests for financial aid or other assistance are rolling in on a daily basis.

“We get everything from, ‘Do you have any shoes?’ to requests for bus passes and tokens,” said Sue Adams, the church’s minister of communications and programs. “Our most recent person wanted $100 for travel to be with her daughter, who I guess was dying.”

St. James belongs to a coalition of La Jolla churches that meets on a quarterly basis to discuss the resources each congregation has at its disposal. St. James has charitable and medical funds that its parishioners can contribute to, which helps fulfill requests on a case-by-case basis.

A person seeking assistance from St. James typically meets with a pastor, who assesses the need and decides whether to offer assistance or refer the person to a nonprofit organization or city-run program that is better equipped to deal with their situation. A person does not have to be a parishioner or member to receive assistance.

“We don’t really question them too much,” Adams said. “We just try to answer the need.”

The first Sunday of the month, St. James parishioners make bags of nonperishable food for the homeless that they keep in their cars and distribute throughout the month.

Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Girard Avenue does most of its charitable work through the nonprofit, So Others May Eat, Inc. Parishioners help the agency organize a free hot meal the second Tuesday of the month, which feeds between 200 and 250 people. The organization also runs a food pantry at Mary, Star of the Sea, and provides necessities such as clothing and sleeping bags.

“Father Jim (Rafferty) has just been amazing by allowing us to use the space,” said Tresha Souza, the founder of So Others May Eat.

On Dec. 16, Souza’s agency hosted its second annual Christmas dinner at Mary, Star of the Sea, in which more than 175 attendees — from the itinerant to the recently unemployed — were granted one item on their holiday wish list, from comforters to electric toothbrushes.

When it comes to financial requests, Mary, Star of the Sea is discerning, as con artists have been known to take advantage of a church’s spiritual calling to help the poor.

Father Rafferty took a call twice from a person claiming to be the single father of two sons, who said he was recently evicted from his La Jolla apartment. After giving the man almost $200, however, Rafferty said there were no signs of him having any dependents.

“I try not to be jaded,” Rafferty said, “but I’m 39 years ordained and I’ve heard a lot of the stories. Some are kind of players. Each time I let (the person) know that I recognize them from before. I’m very careful.”

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