Donald A. Promnitz/The Madera Tribune
From left, Rosa Santos, Maria Ramirez and Amalia Garibay dish up breakfast for the hungry at Holy Family Table.
A homeless man leaves a cart full of his belongings in an alley as he enters Griffin Hall.
A mother and child walk away from the building as another homeless man, covered in mud, wipes his feet before entering.
The small white building is home to Holy Family Table, an organization that serves free breakfast from 8-9:30 a.m. seven days a week.
Numerous families sit side by side with homeless men and women as they enjoy a nutritious plate of food. The meal is offered to anyone who is hungry regardless of religion, age, race or ethnic background.
“People see that we open our doors,” said fundraising chairman Betty Scalise. “We don’t ask anybody any questions. If you’re hungry, come in and eat."
The concept formed roughly 20 years ago when a group of individuals, once a week, made sandwiches and passed them out to the homeless. The daily meal service, sponsored by St. Joachim’s Catholic Church, began in 2005 and. since March of 2006. an estimated 1.1 million free meals have been served to the community.
“We surpassed one million meals served just about a year ago,” said Luiz Zarco, Holy Family Table’s weekend supervisor and custodian.
Zarco, 28, started volunteering in 2007 and said he enjoys being around the people, especially the kids, and sees himself working with the organization for a long time.
“In the Valley, there is a lot of poverty,” Scalise said. “We feel we are filling a niche that was needed.”
Zarco’s experience inspired him to further help those in need globally. He is going on a missionary trip to Haiti with St. Joachim Church this July.
Scalise said Madera is a very supportive community. Food is donated to Holy Family Table from individual people and local companies, such as Costco and Save Mart. Madera County Food Bank also contributes to the organization.
“A lot of people donate,” Scalise said. “We see this as a community effort, people work there, they volunteer there and they bring things there, and it comes from all over the community.”
Cooks for Holy Family Table arrive at 5 a.m. every day to prepare enough food for everyone by the time the doors open at 8 a.m.
Danny Grimaldo, a third-grade teacher at Sierra Vista Elementary, has been volunteering as a cook on Saturdays for three years.
“There’s a lot of regulars,” Grimaldo said. “On the weekends I even see some of my own students.”
Grimaldo, 57, said he feels great about the organization because it gives people food who would normally go hungry and there is nowhere else nearby that offers this type of service.
During an average month Grimaldo said volunteers serve about 300 plates a day, but during the holidays they’ve served as many as 700 plates in one day.
Holy Family Table serves approximately 100,000 plates a year. In 2016, 113,319 meals were handed out.
“The bulk of the people that eat there are very much food insecure,” Scalise said. “They may be able to eat once a day somewhere or they have a limited amount of food, but the best meal of the day is the one they are getting there.”
Scalise, 75, has volunteered with the organization since 2005. Scalise said about $100,000 has to be raised a year to keep the program going. To raise money, Holy Family Table does several events a year and provides newsletters to local businesses to keep people informed. A local golf tournament is organized by the group every other spring to raise money.
“I think everybody who is affiliated with it really believes in it,” Scalise said. “We feel very strongly that there is a need in this community for food help for many families and that’s one of the ways we can provide a service for the community.”
Grimaldo encourages everyone to come volunteer. He said many high school and confirmation students work there for community service hours, others are simply volunteers.
Although the organization is sponsored by St. Joachim’s Catholic Church, Scalise said. “It is not run as a religious organization, it is run as a service to the community. If you want to donate something we’re not going to ask you what church you came from or do you believe in God, we’re just going to say thank you.”
Megan Trindad is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.