Dust off your tuxedo and pull out your dance card. You are cordially invited to take a spin around the dance floor with the Honorable Mayor Karen Goh in two weeks. The inaugural Mayor’s Ball, slated for Feb. 8, promises to combine black-tie dining and dancing with the worthiest of causes: helping broken families in our midst who are experiencing extreme hardships.
The gala will benefit CityServe, a nonprofit organization and communitywide endeavor meeting the tangible needs of people in crisis, whether it be with food or furnishings, meals or microwaves. In just three years since its establishment locally, CityServe, through a partnership with 109 churches of all denominations across the county, other nonprofits, major retailers and community resource agencies, is giving hope back to the hopeless.
Two years ago, the bottom of Rose Ortiz’s life fell out from under her. Her husband abandoned her, their 5-month-old daughter and 2-year-old son. With no family locally or any means of support, the stay-at-home mother was beside herself wondering how she would feed and care for her children.
“I had no one. I had nothing,” Ortiz said, her voice cracking with emotion. “That’s when I got a knock at my door.”
On the other side of the threshold stood Ashley Stutzman, now the finance administrator for CityServe. Ortiz was at the mercy of Stutzman, who invited the Ortiz family to dinner.
“I couldn’t believe that they invited me, a total stranger,” she added, as she wiped away tears. But a bond of friendship and a path out of hopelessness were forged that evening.
There are thousands of people like Ortiz whose lives have been touched by CityServe and the long-lasting relationships it aims to create. Last year alone, 360 truckloads, each containing an estimated $65,000 worth of surplus goods from giant retail partners like Costco, came through the 165,000-square-foot Bakersfield Hub at City Center, the former Montgomery Ward Department Store on F Street.
“I don’t lend my name to just anything,” Goh said at a recent press conference announcing the ball. “But this is something I believe in that is impacting lives in our community and bringing the power of change.”
The collaborative is also being eyed as a prototype across the country.
As the community grapples with how to help the needy, CityServe is filling an enormous gap with its innovative model of connecting area congregations with resources from major retailers and placing them into the hands of families like Ortiz who are struggling to get back on their feet.
“I realized that there was hope out there for me,” Ortiz said. “We are not alone. I now have a whole CityServe family and I am so thankful.”
The impetus for the nonprofit, according to Goh, was when church leaders noted that missionary work that is so widespread across the globe was not as prevalent locally. CityServe, which began in Arkansas, has expanded across the state of California. Initially, it was a project of Canyon Hills Assembly of God.
“We are giving people a hand up, not a hand out,” said CityServe Community Development and Church Engagement Director Pastor Robin Robinson. “We aren’t delivering something never to be seen again. The volunteers and churches are establishing relationships with the people they are helping because we believe that is where true transformation will begin.”
Last year alone, some 3,500 volunteers helped sort, pack and transport items to 20,000 households.
“We are trying to repair the social brokenness in the community by plugging the gaps where other programs aren’t able to,” Robinson added.
The Mayor’s Ball is co-chaired by Sen. Shannon Grove and Dignity Health’s Robin Mangarin-Scott.
“Being in government, I know that government isn’t equipped to handle all the needs of the community,” Grove said. “CityServe fills those needs, much like a faith-based Red Cross.”
For more information about CityServe and The Mayor’s Ball, visit www.cityservebakersfield.com or call 661-371-2650. ￼
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.