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Home > Media News > Crescenta Valley Sun

Churches Unite to Help
by Mary O'Keefe, Valley Sun


When most foothill residents think about where their next meal will come from, it usually involves choosing a restaurant. But for some in Los Angeles, the choice may be between going to bed hungry or eating their only meal of the day.

For this reason, Catholic congregants from St. Bede the Venerable, Holy Redeemer and St. James The Less do what they can to battle the hunger of others.

"I felt I was driven to help the poor" said St. Bede member John Olson.

Olson is the driving force behind St. Bede's outreach program to give those in need a good, solid meal. "We all used to cook at home and then meet up and go downtown" Olson said.

St. Bede members hand out dinners at missions in Chinatown. At first they prepared about 50 meals; that number has now grown to more than 100 meals per trip.

"I got home that first night and thought it was great" Olson said.

The program became very popular with church members and other community members, including high school students. And later, two other churches, Holy Redeemer in Montrose and St. James the Less in La Crescenta, joined with St. Bede, allowing them to serve meals four nights a week. St. Bede serves Monday and Wednesday nights, St. James on Tuesday and Holy Redeemer on Thursday.

"So many people donated their time and funds for dinners that we added a second night" Olson said.

The church also distributes meals at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Los Angeles.

"This charitable act is not an easy one, not just because of the time and funds needed but also because several Los Angeles businesses are not as welcoming as one might think to a group of "do gooders" handing free meals out" Olson said.

Some in Chinatown have complained that distributing meals out in their area attracts homeless to enter their neighborhood; others complain of garbage left behind by the homeless and the church members. Olson disputes these accusations.

A typical mission night begins in St. Bedes' kitchen.

High school students, church and community members all work in an assembly line to get the meals from the kitchen where they are prepared to the van. They say a short prayer, blessing the food and their effort, then everyone piles into cars to drive to downtown Los Angeles.

The meals consist of chicken, rice, beans, oranges and cookies. When the caravan of cars arrives at Our Lady Queen of Angels there is often a line of people waiting.

All seem to know Olson by name; many approach and hug him. They also know the regular volunteers who travel with him.

The van doors open and in less than 30 minutes all the meals are handed out. Olson walks from one homeless person to another, taking time to speak to each of them.

"This is a very humbling experience" said Kaela Green, a Crescenta Valley High School student. "I wish we could have done more" agreed La Canada resident and Loyola student Sean Cotter.

"It is so different here from where we live." Associate Pastor Paschal Amagba said that these types of outreach programs help, but much more needs to be done.

"It is such a positive program and it satisfies their hunger for now, but many of these people need more than just food" he said.

Better case management and rehabilitation are needed, Amagba explained, adding that the personal contact Olson has with the homeless is just as beneficial as the food he delivers.

"If truth be told, I should be dead" one of the homeless men said.

Another, wearing a clean outfit topped by a warm coat, said that Olson gave him the clothes.

He had just been hired for a new job.

The man's pride was evident as he shook Olson's hand.

Olson smiled and said he was proud of him.

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