Who says Christmas has to be contained to December? St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center in east Bakersfield received a needed gift with a $3,500 grant from the Elks National Foundations Community Investments Program in late January.
Bakersfield Elks Lodge #266 member Jim Riccomini reached out to St. Vincent de Paul board chairwoman Deborah Leary about the Beacon Grants, part of the foundations' program that gives lodges across the country the chance to develop ongoing, charitable, Elks-driven community projects.
"Jim had contacted me about this opportunity to apply and I was invited to meet with some of the members and tell them about St. Vincent, what we do, and how we operate," Leary said.
"The grant is intended to help the homeless and veterans," Riccomini said. "We took it on ourselves to pick a local charity, and since I am Catholic we decided to go with St. Vincent de Paul."
There are 2,000 lodges in the United States with nearly a million members of the 141-year-old fraternal order. The number assigned to each indicates their order of establishment, Ricommini added. "At number 266, we've been around a long time."
Started in 2005 with a modest budget of $350,000, CIP has since funded more than 27,000 grants to help lodges build stronger communities and combat food insecurity, support homelessness efforts, serve veterans and military members in need, and promote youth community service.
"With this grant, St. Vincent will be able to help over 200 men, women, and children for a couple of months," Leary said. "We are a day facility for the truly street homeless who roam the streets of east Bakersfield and this will help us feed and clothe them."
St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center serves approximately 200 hot meals a day including breakfast and lunch.
"The grant will also help us provide hygiene kits, socks, beanies, sweatshirts, sleeping bags, tarps, as well as vouchers for California ID cards, and bus passes to help center visitors gets to medical appointments or job interviews," she added.
Besides food and clothing, St. Vincent de Paul also serves as a physical address for visitors so they can receive mail from family and necessary social services like EBT cards, Social Security or disability checks. The nonprofit organization has been serving the city's east side for more than 50 years, providing its homeless visitors a chance to spend part of their day in its serene setting and tranquil gardens, and offering a much-needed respite from their uncertain nights on the streets.
Since St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center receives no federal, state or local funding, it relies on the generosity of the community, funds from its sister thrift store next door and a fall barbecue — its only fundraiser — as well as church groups, volunteers and community partners.
"On behalf of the board of directors, staff and volunteers, we thank the Bakersfield Elks Lodge #266 for the support and generosity," she said.