The staff and volunteers at Poverello House are miracle workers.
They have been since day one in 1973 when founder Mike McGarvin saw hunger on the streets of downtown Fresno and served the first batch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of the back of his car.
But there comes a time when the daily miracles collide with reality. What Poverello House needs now is your support of the $2.5 million Raise the Roof campaign to rebuild its worn-out facilities.
In truth, raising the roof won’t suffice. Poverello House is looking to renovate its entire campus at 412 F St. in downtown Fresno and complete the effort by October.
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The centerpiece of the rebuild is the warehouse, which was constructed in 1943, according to the date scrawled in concrete. It is made of wood. The roof leaks. There is no air conditioning, let alone a cold-storage unit for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“When it rains, it pours inside,” says Cruz Avila, the nonprofit’s executive director. “The extreme temperatures spoil our food. And it presents serious pest-control problems.”
The warehouse should have been leveled years ago. But those at Poverello House trudged on, as they always have, doing a lot with very little.
When it rains, it pours inside. The extreme temperatures spoil our food. And it presents serious pest-control problems.
Cruz Avila, executive director of Poverello House
Renovation plans call for:
▪ A 19,000-square-foot insulated metal building with ample room for forklifts to stack pallets of food and other supplies.
▪ Commercial grade refrigeration and freezer units installed close to the kitchen. No longer would Poverello House have to rent cold-storage space elsewhere.
▪ A new operations center that will improve work efficiency and worker comfort, and result in significant energy and water savings – thus cutting Poverello House’s whopping utility bill.
▪ An easily accessible public donation drop-off. No more driving through the tight alley between the warehouse and the kitchen.
▪ A permanent space for the Super Multi-agency Access Program Point that is operating out of a trailer. This is where clients are linked to behavioral, social, health and housing services throughout Fresno County. MAP Point is an essential tool in reducing Fresno’s population of homeless people.
▪ Permanent showers and restrooms, and improved lighting at the Village of Hope and Community of Hope temporary housing sheds.
For anyone on the fence about supporting Raise the Roof, here are a few things you should know.
Poverello House grew into a soup kitchen and then into what is today: a mission of the heart that also provides shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, showers, laundry and rehabilitation programs for people with nowhere else to turn.
Its reach extends far beyond downtown. Poverello House has become one of our community’s greatest teammates by providing hot meals, case management and social services for clients at domestic violence shelters and drug rehab facilities.
It treats people with respect and compassion. And it does not turn anyone away.
Can you imagine what Fresno’s homeless situation would be without Poverello House?
Well, let’s not imagine. Here are the facts:
It provides 1,600 hot meals daily, and it does so without knowing what amount or type of food will be on the shelf.
There are 30 residents in the six-month rehabilitation program. It has a 52 percent success rate.
About 120 people a night sleep in the temporary housing sheds. These are the bridge between homelessness and permanent housing.
Twenty-seven women a night use Naomi’s House, which is a safe haven for single, homeless women. Counseling and 12-step recovery are offered. The shelter is financed by a HUD grant and matching funds raised by Poverello House.
Eleven residents stay at Pico House, a transition home for graduates of the drug-rehab program. It derives its name from the fact it was originally located on West Pico Avenue in northwest Fresno. It is now less than a mile from Poverello House.
Nearly 300 people are treated monthly in the medical clinic. Another 33 each month receive dental services.
Last year’s donation of a $110,000 food truck by California Agricultural Leadership Foundation Class 45 and the ag community enables the Poverello House to serve hot meals in rural communities.
All of this – the lives saved, the restoration of self-respect, the breaking free of addictions, the stomachs and souls nourished – flows from the efforts of McGarvin and those who have rallied to his vision of community service.
The story of “Papa Mike” has been told many times, but it’s worth retelling. When McGarvin was growing up in San Francisco, he swerved onto the wrong path. The director of San Francisco Poverello, Father Simon Scanlan, pointed him in the right direction.
After McGarvin moved to Fresno and saw a glaring need, he answered the call.
“I attribute it to the Good Lord,” McGarvin said three years ago for a Bee story on Poverello House’s 40th anniversary. “I just kept saying, ‘I’ll do what I can. If I run out of money, well, I gave it a shot.’ ”
Back in those days, he served mostly alcoholics and drug addicts. These days, entire families show up for meals. As do seniors who have a roof over their heads, but run out of money for food at the end of the month. And so do homeless high school and college students.
Many people have been generous in their giving to Poverello House. Now it’s time to renew that support or chip in for the first time.
Let’s raise the roof and enable it to serve those in need for decades to come.
Bill McEwen is The Bee’s editorial page editor: firstname.lastname@example.org, 559-441-6632, @Fresnomac