Just three weeks ago, the shelves at St. Margaret’s Outreach Center in Palm Desert were bare, and up to 80 families were expected to come by to pick up food boxes.
But with one phone call, and a relationship between two dynamic Palm Desert congregations, those shelves were packed within a few days, according to Chet Hecht, the outreach director at in Palm Desert.
“I re-hooked up with Pastor Derek (Fossey of ). We had talked about this idea (of partnering up) and it was just God saying, ‘I need to remind you to call Derek,’’’ Hecht said, adding that he also spread the word at St. Margaret’s.
The center, which has reported a 33 percent increase in foot traffic over last year, is mainly feeding families that live close by to the center at 44710 San Pablo Avenue – a change from last year.
“We are fulfilling a need right here in the central valley that was fairly light (last year). There are more programs out in the Desert Hot Springs area, out in the Mecca area, in Cathedral City. The programs start to get fewer and far between as you get closer to the center of the valley,’’ Hecht said.
After connecting with Hope Lutheran's congregation, Hecht began to notice a new phenomenon.
"Something has emerged recently at the back door of this place and that is people are showing up in their cars with food. And we are not asking them what church they come from and what religion they are," he said.
Fossey said his congregation has also felt the community's need and was looking to supplement the church's program of giving away $1,000 a month in $5 increments to anyone with a photo ID.
“We go through that really quickly. It’s amazing. The need has just gone up and up and up. So we’re looking for ways we can better connect and use our resources better and St. Margaret’s has been doing a great job of it, so we want to hop on their train and help in any way that we can,” Fossey said.
He added that right now the Lutheran congregation is supplying food, but he hopes to send over volunteers in the near future.
The Rev. Lane Hensley, who has developed a close relationship with Fossey, said the partnership of Lutherans and Episcopalians makes sense in today's economic climate.
"We're not in competition,'' Hensley said, drawing from the chapter of Ephesians 4. "Paul says we are members of the same body and that the work we do compliments each other to build up the body of Christ."
He said that the generosity of both Palm Desert congregations is even greater than the need, and that help has poured in from other churches as well.
Recently, Sacred Heart Catholic Church comitted to come in on Thursdays to provide help to the unemployed with finding a job. Those interested in participating were asked to make an appointment, Hecht said.
Hensley said each church is providing a different service.
"This is tough times for everybody. Even if you were wealthy, you are less wealthy than you were before,'' Hensley said. "But what I'm seeing is people's generosity around things like this shooting through the roof."
St. Margaret’s Outreach Center is open Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m.
Hecht said the center hopes to be open more days in the future to meet more needs of the community, but that additional volunteers are needed.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating food, please call Hecht at 760-346-2697 Ext 102.