From La Jolla with love

La Jolla’s Friends of the Poor celebrates 25 years and expands around the globe

As Friends of the Poor marks its 25th year, the organization has expanded its reach from the barrios of Tijuana to villages in Africa, Mexico and South America.

In 1982, three take-charge women founded the charitable nonprofit to collect food, clothing, medicine and money to help those in need regardless of race, gender or nationality. Today they say the need for their efforts is in great demand as they see increasing need for food and monetary support.

Dr. Anita Figueredo and Jean Colarusso, of La Jolla who founded the group with Mary Rupp, said the organization has been a labor of love for them, paying off in untold measures.

“As a group, we’re pretty joyful,” added Teresa Doyle, the group’s treasurer and Figueredo’s daughter.

“I know that just providing people an opportunity to be of service to others in desperate need provides a joyful path to them as well.

Figueredo said that when they formed the group she learned that in order for North Americans to get a tax exemption for gifts, it had to be a (nonprofit) organization.

She and co-founders Jean Colarusso and Mary Rupp said they believed they could foster more support if donors benefited with a tax deduction.

“It was hoped the people performing the work on the ground could be relieved of the burden of raising funds,” explained Doyle.

One of the organization’s first projects was working with the nuns at Casa de los Pobres in Tijuana to provide meals, clothing and medical attention to impoverished families. That support continues today, enabling the center to serve more than 300,000 hot meals and distribute 27,000 bags of groceries each year, as well as caring for the medical needs of almost 20,000.

Friends volunteer Carmina Morfin makes weekly trips to Tijuana to distribute food and necessities to families unable to travel to Casa de los Pobres. Tiny but feisty, the senior citizen who drives a huge van into some of the poorest areas south of the border represents the caring nature and dedicated compassion that all of the volunteers have in common.

Both Morfin and workers at Casa de los Pobres have seen an increase in need because of a jump in the number of people seeking assistance. As a result, they’ll be collecting non-perishable items at the La Jolla Farmers Market the next few Sundays.

The Friends support several international projects, including an orphanage in Nigeria, a preschool in Guatemala and a shelter for abused women and children in Mexico.

Since its inception, 100 percent of all donations have filtered through to benefit the needy. Each board member pays for her own expenses, including travel, office supplies, material transportation and gasoline.

Still, keeping Friends of the Poor and all of its sponsored projects going is no easy task.

Hospital San Ignacio de Loyola, the only private mental health facility in the Tijuana region, is in critical need of funding. Although it has a capacity of 40, it has been forced to cut back its patient census to 25. The facility requires $20,000 a month in support from Friends of the Poor to remain operational.

“I think all of us would say we’re the luckiest people in the world. This is how we show God how grateful we are and how much we love him. I am amazed, being part of this organization myself, through pure luck how many opportunities we are presented with every day for doing good.”

Figueredo said faith is a large reason for the organization’s ongoing success.

“We expect the Lord to help us with everything we do,” she said.

To donate to Friends of the Poor or learn more about the projects they support, call (858) 405-2331 or go to