St. Mary Interfaith Community Services
Edward Figueroa; CEO
Hard times reveal the soul of a community. Stockton’s unemployment rate may be one of the highest in the country, and Forbe’s may have listed it as one of the most miserable cities in America, but looking at how the community is taking care of its own at St. Mary’s Interfaith Community Services, Stockton’s generosity doesn’t seem affected by the purported misery.
St. Mary’s Interfaith Community Services is a private non-profit organization that tries to meet the basic needs of the homeless and working poor in the Stockton community.
The biggest service the center provides is the dining room, where people can come get free lunch and dinner. The center has medical and dental clinics, where the uninsured can receive professional care. There is a clothing and hygiene center that provides showers, clothing, and haircuts. The center also offers a social services office, where clients can discuss issues related to being homeless.
Edward Figueroa, CEO of St. Mary’s Interfaith Community Services, says that over the last couple years the center has had double the number of people coming to the dining room for meals. “A few years ago 400 was a high. Today we see over 800 people coming for meals on an ordinary day.”
The center is doing everything it can to meet the needs of a growing number of cliental. Figueroa had just finished meeting with his director of accounting services to draw up a budget for the upcoming year. Demand continues to grow, and finances are tight for everyone. Last year, the board approved a red-line budget, something they don’t normally do. “But because of the need that has been demonstrated, what are we going to cut?” says Figueroa.
St. Mary’s is not a largely government-funded social service. It is 80% funded by private individuals. The center also depends on volunteerism. “We have a staff of 24, we need to match if not exceed that number in volunteers,” says Figueroa. Figueroa spoke of the generosity of the Stockton community. “They see the need and their hands are involved,” says Figueroa, “All the doctors and dentists that provide the services volunteer their time. It is amazing generosity.”
The center also relies on donations by local services, for example local farmers donate produce, restaurants donate food. Taking care of their own is a joint effort by the Stockton community.
St. Mary’s has been around since 1955. “We have a long history we are well-respected in the community,” says Figueroa, “individuals know that when they give time or money it will be well-utilized.”
A lot of people who come to St. Mary’s are working poor, many of them families with children. All their income is going to provide shelter, so they turn to St. Mary’s for their other basic needs. “You can definitely tell that there is a sense of anxiety, people trying to deal with being homeless.”
Figueroa does not deny that there is some stress, because there is. But it is not hopelessness. “If you walked into our dining room you wouldn’t see a group of depressed people.” According to Figueroa, the center’s number one philosophy is to treat the people who come to St. Mary’s with respect and dignity.
There is an open door policy, which means that a client can come to Figueroa with special requests, complaints, and suggestions for better services. Figueroa says that this is how many of their programs originated.
St. Mary’s tries to provide a clean and beautiful space, where people will feel welcome and nurtured. “The clients know that this place is for them. It’s a place that is filled with hope, not to be cliche, but it truly is. There are so many acts of kindness that happen on our campus, thanks to the generous community.”
By Jordan Lee