The “how” it happened is hazy for Jeska Garofalo. But the “why” — now that she has been consistently reminded of for the past five months.
The Clovis resident knows there was a phone conversation between her and her former coworker and friend, Juan Hernandez, late last year, and there was talk of a vision.
Hernandez wanted to feed people in the homeless community.
Garofalo’s response: Let’s roll it out; let’s put it into action.
In December 2015, 30 of their closest friends and family members clamored together on G Street in downtown Fresno — with a grill, carne asada, tortillas and a vat of hot chocolate in tow — with the intention of feeding 150 people in the homeless community. They served 300.
“It was overwhelming. The homeless community was in a line, and we were in their house — but we’re on G Street,” Garofalo said. “When we pulled up, my heart started racing, and I knew this was where we needed to be. This is God’s calling right now.”
Feed the Need Fresno — a name developed over two boxes of pizza — is a grass roots initiative, ran by a tight-knit group of families who simply enjoy living life together.
Everything from shared meals, pot lucks and offering a helping hand without hesitation is the code among the friends, and as Garofalo summed up, lead a missionary lifestyle.
But Feed the Need Fresno isn’t a religious-based organization, she explained, as it’s for everyone who has a desire to help people in the community.
“We’re big on community so we wanted to incorporate our children,” Garofalo said. “Our kids need to see that there is so much out there that needs attention in the community we live in. Missional work doesn’t always mean international, and we wanted to do it here.”
As Feed the Need Fresno gained momentum, the core planning team — Juan and Araceli Hernandez, Tony and Jeska Garofalo, George and Maddi Morales, Joel and Joni Heckman and Gretchen D’Souza — divvied up various roles to help with organization, including areas of social media, volunteer assignments and donation collections.
Each month, the planning team gathers to discuss what they can improve on for the next Feed the Need Fresno event, taking their children’s input into consideration every step of the way.
Organizations, institutions and businesses such as Kaiser Permanente, Valley Oak Elementary School and JoJo’s Yogurt in Clovis have jumped on board to support Feed the Need Fresno — donating supplies like bottled water, clothing items and care packages.
Garofalo and the planning team have seen Feed the Need Fresno’s operation grow in the number of volunteers and type of donations as we move through 2016 — with more snacks and toiletries given away to the homeless community.
Hernandez posed a challenge to the departments of Kaiser Permanente, and asked representatives to remind their coworkers to donate shoes, socks and personal care items into a designated bin.
“We were able to produce care packages for men and women, including feminine hygiene products,” he said. “That was a huge push by one of the departments and that was great.”
The dissemination process has also been revamped — trial-and-error style. Fresno residents start by getting a freshlymade meal, which have ranged from tacos to spaghetti and meatballs, and move down the line toward beverages and care packages.
Finally, they reach a designated clothing area with items for men, women and children. Each individual is allowed two pieces.
More recently, the planning team has heavily involved their children by allowing them to build peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are placed inside care packages.
Ten-year-old Emily Hernandez is known as a hustler among the younger crowd, ready to “core team it up,” as Garofalo described, whenever anything Feed the Need Fresno comes up. Even more, she’s already beginning to grasp some of the underlying lessons her parents are hoping to instill in her.
“It’s about other like-minded people who have a desire and focus for those in need,” she said.
And it’s only the beginning. Garofalo said there are plans for Feed the Need Fresno to add more days, locations and offered services throughout the month and eventually form into a nonprofit, though its mission will remain the same.
“It’s learning how to serve others, regardless of their issue,” she explained. “It’s not our job to judge. We can’t change anybody, but we can sure help them.”
The next Feed the Need Fresno event starts at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 7 at Santa Clara Avenue and G Street in downtown Fresno.
The planning team is pushing for bug repellant and long pairs of socks.