Mary’s Kitchen volunteers share memories amid forced charity relocation

ORANGE, Calif.—After serving the homeless population for more than 37 years, Mary’s Kitchen bid farewell to volunteers on July 10 as its managers searched for a new location after the city asked the nonprofit profit to close for public safety reasons.

Relying on donations and volunteers, the Food Distribution Center has provided the less fortunate in the community with showers and laundry facilities, a mail room, and medical services since the mid-1980s.

City officials previously ordered the nonprofit to cease operations and vacate the current building at 517 W. Struck Avenue by June 10, citing concerns that its operation could potentially attract criminal activity and enable – rather than solve – homelessness.

Volunteers speak on stage during Mary’s Kitchen’s final banquet to celebrate their memories of serving the homeless in the community of Orange, Calif., July 10, 2022. (Carol Cassis/The Epoch Times)

During the final banquet, held as a “thank you party” outside the center, attendees shared feelings of grief and gratitude.

“We mourn with and for those who have no place to call home and who have no place to call home,” said Dana Kinkaid, senior pastor of First Christian Church of Orange. , during his banquet speech. “And we are grateful for the opportunity and privilege to serve those who have come to this property.”

Kinkaid, along with charity president Gloria Suess and her volunteers, do not refer to those in need simply as ‘homeless’, but rather as ‘guests’ – a term Suess said was necessary to demonstrate care and respect to those in need who have passed through their doors.

Looking back on their time at the center, many volunteers took to the stage to share some of their most cherished memories.

One such story involved Kenny, a guest struggling with drug addiction. After years of “stumbling” at Mary’s while drunk, he finally hit rock bottom and got the help he needed.

After that, he disappeared for two months. Volunteers learned he died under the Huntington Beach pier of alcohol poisoning. Saddened, they mourned his loss and even held a memorial service for him.

One afternoon weeks later, however, he walked through the doors of the center for lunch.

“Kenny came back to life!” the speaker, a longtime volunteer, joked as the audience laughed.

Soon after, Kenny was able to overcome his addiction and complete a rehab program in “record time” thanks to volunteers and the Orange County Rescue Mission, a Tustin-based nonprofit that also aims to raise awareness for those without. -shelter.

He now holds a management position for a local landscaping company while helping out at Mary’s as a prayer leader and as a volunteer.

Kenny’s story is not unique. Another volunteer recalled her own period of homelessness following an altercation with her family.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t be fed, showered or dressed,” she said.

Two years earlier, she had become disabled after back surgery, during which her finances were taken care of by her family, she said. After being turned away from churches and other charities, she found the care she needed at the nonprofit.

“Gloria and everyone at Mary’s Kitchen saved my life,” she said in tears. Since then, she has volunteered alongside other Orange County residents who once or currently face homelessness and food insecurity.

Epoch Times Photo
Volunteers speak on stage during Mary’s Kitchen’s final banquet to celebrate their memories of serving the homeless in the community of Orange, Calif., July 10, 2022. (Carol Cassis/The Epoch Times)

Despite the broad support of its many volunteers, the association faces the challenge of finding a new place to continue its activities.

Marc Delgado, a volunteer at the center for over three years, set up a Gofundme fundraiser for the charity’s relocation since late December, which has now raised over $4,000.

“There’s a lot of indifference about homelessness,” Delgado told The Epoch Times. “But we are not giving up. I don’t know of any other charity that does what Mary does.

Many other volunteers said their “guests” are just people who need help in difficult times.

“Most of our guests are not criminals. They are not drug addicts or mentally ill people. Some of them are, and we treat them with the proper care and resources that we have,” she said.

Although it is still uncertain whether they can find a new location to continue their activities, many remain optimistic.

“I don’t think this is the end,” said another volunteer. “I don’t know how we’ll come back, but I believe we’ll all come back. Because [Mary’s] is too good, too nice, too caring, too big, to be over.

Carol Cassis

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