Volunteers and leaders of the faith-based community in Riverside County talk about what motivates them to support the homeless.
Local organizations such as Path of Life Ministries, serve the homeless community, offering shelters and programs for emergency housing, permanent supportive housing, behavioral health programs, and employment resources.
There are many volunteers that agree with the mission of Path of Life and choose to serve there because of it.
“I started volunteering here years ago, I wanted to teach my kids that you help the poor,” said Carol Cantino. “We also did service-based activities and projects, and that all carried over to now. When my kids moved out, I needed something to fill my time.”
Cantino volunteers at a family shelter every month. She and several other volunteers prepare food for 50 people. There are multiple groups that cycle in and out of these shelters and serve in the same way.
According to the 2018 Riverside County Homeless Count and Survey Report, there were 1,685 identified unsheltered and 631 sheltered homeless people (total=2,316) in Riverside County, California.
“They’re hungry,” said Pastor Albert Shade of Sandals Palm Avenue, which has been helping the homeless community for more than six years. “And we bring food. But that said, I would like for us as our church, to do more than that. We are connecting and hopefully developing friendships, and so that they consider us safe people they can trust.”
Building relationships is the main goal for Cantino and the group that serves with her. While they attend to the physical need first, hunger, they also hope to provide friendship and a friendly face to talk to.
“There is normally a theme for the meal and people sign up to make dishes,” said Cantino. “We typically make the food at home, bring it to the shelter, will pray, and then serve the meal. We also eat with them and sit down and visit with them,” Cantino explained.
Cantino said one of her favorite meals she had made was homemade chicken alfredo from scratch.
“We get a lot of compliments because we have some good cooks who really want to bless the people with good food, not just store-bought items,” Cantino said.
She also explained that the feedback from the people whom they serve encourages and motivates her.
“The compliments were good because it showed we care and, hopefully, they will be more open to us sharing the gospel with them and praying with them,” Cantino said.
There are more than 15 shelters, food banks and services, and churches such as Sandals Church Palm Avenue and The Grove Community Church within Riverside county that are actively looking for ways to assist the homeless population.
“It’s the dignity of we just want to meet you and talk with you,” said Pastor Albert Shade.
Beyond the food and hygiene bags that Shade and his team take out each week, he shared that it’s more about the discussion that happens between the church members that volunteer and the homeless they are serving.
Jordan Guisti, Young Adults Associate at Sandals Church clarified the main reason for the weekly event.
“We try to go out to the same places each week so we can really build the relationships,” said Guisti. “I think exposure has made the biggest impact on me, in this area, there are people who are hurting, they’re all out on the streets for different reasons. I’ve learned there are opportunities to serve if you look around.”
Michael Madiel retired this past year from Riverside county where he had worked for 26 years. During his employment, he served his last 13 years with the Department of Mental Health and Substance abuse.
Madiel explained that there is a difference between working with the county and volunteering with a church. The county was more “cut and dry” in his own words. But he stated the key difference was the focus.