In the early evening of Dec. 19, a massive line of local families snaked through the entire inside hallway of the city’s Community and Cultural Center, where about 120 volunteers from the Morgan Hill-based nonprofit community outreach group manned different stations throughout the complex.
Now, in its fourth year, Pastor Gary Palacios’ dream has become a much-needed reality for those less fortunate and was delivered in mind-boggling proportions with 1,450 toys, 750 jackets, 200 bags of groceries, 250 dozen eggs and countless pallets of oranges, apples, potatoes and onions distributed.
“Your heart gets overwhelmed to see the need,” said Palacios, whose Morgan Hill chapter has grown to 250 strong since established five years ago as part of a larger 12,000-member national movement. “Sometimes we shy away from it. We think somebody else can do it, somebody else will help. But maybe one person can make that change and help. It just takes one.”
Palacios, an agent with Intero Real Estate, acquired a $5,000 grant through the Intero Foundation and another $5,000 from Golden Eagle Mortgage Group to help put on the event that cost more than $15,000.
“It’s fantastic,” said Intero branch manager Ben Bruno, who, along with several Intero agents, volunteered at the Dec. 19 event. “They’re giving back to the community and that’s what it’s all about.”
Morgan Hill’s Intero agents donated $30,000 this year to the Intero Foundation, taking a percentage out of each of their commission checks throughout 2014 to contribute to the fund.
“It’s an excellent program,” said Morgan Hill native Caroline Johnson, as she stood in the long line along with her 10-year-old daughter Adriana-Rose and other friends patiently waiting to see what was waiting for them inside the Hiram Morgan Hill Room.
All of the community outreach orchestrated by the Cathedral of Faith—from its family harvest food program, where a free dinner is served on the second Tuesday of each month, to Shirley’s Closet which distributes warm coats, to its “Better Day for Village Avante” initiative that started shortly after a teenager died during a drive-by shooting—is run out of the Community and Cultural Center.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Palacios, whose members from Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin have forged relationships with tenants and passed out fliers for their many charitable events at all of the low-income, apartment complexes throughout the area. “Our whole plan is to be in the community and pastor the community and really love a community.”
Cathedral of Faith member Josie Scott, who started the clothing and coat drive, grew up under similar circumstances as the many needy families she helps today. Scott would accompany her grandmother to a local church for food and clothing, but taking “only as much as we needed,” she was always told.
“I got help like this when I was little,” said Scott, wearing the group’s symbolic “I love Morgan Hill” T-shirt, like many of the volunteers. “I don’t want one child to go without food. I want them to know that people do care in this world. We want people to know that we love them.”
Retired San Jose Police Officer Robin Tokiwa, another Cathedral of Faith member, said her 25 years of law enforcement exposed her to the poorest and neediest of people in the surrounding communities.
“I saw need in its rawest form,” Tokiwa said. “So this is an opportunity to give back to people who really need it. Our foundation is based upon God’s love and service to our community.”
After filling out a registration form, including contact information and family size, attendees were served up a hot holiday meal—donated by San Jose-based Martha’s Kitchen—while being serenaded by soothing sounds from the church band in the city’s 4,030 square foot banquet room.
“We serve them,” Scott said. “We want them to feel special.”
After dinner, families made their way to the “Elf Department” where special gifts were passed out to the children and winter jackets were available for adults in another room. The special night did not stop there, as photographs with Santa were available with free printouts.
Before exiting the center, grocery bags filled with staples and other goodies from the Second Harvest Food Bank were picked up. Then, outside near the parking lot, pallets of produce were stacked up for those who wanted to load their vehicles prior to driving off.
“It’s overwhelming that there is so much need here in Morgan Hill ,” said local resident Sandra Ventitelli, a Cathedral of Faith member. “I love when a church serves the local community.”