While much of the community has closed its doors in recent days due to Gov. Gavin Newsom's shelter-in-place order, essential services such as homeless centers are still there to help those who need it most.
With that said, several shelters are struggling to keep some sense of normalcy in their day-to-day operations during the coronavirus outbreak, and St. Vincent de Paul Bakersfield is one of them.
The organization has a homeless day center where more than 130 men, women and children come to eat breakfast and lunch, shower, get rest and receive toiletries and clothing. Several local businesses and groups donate or prepare meals to be served at 9 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday, explained Deborah Leary, chairwoman of the board.
St. Vincent de Paul Bakersfield does not receive federal or local agency funds.
There is also a thrift store that sells items at a reduced price or recycles them.
However, due to the stay-at-home order, things have changed drastically for the organization. The thrift store, being a nonessential business, had to close, and around six employees, several with 20-plus years experience, were furloughed.
The homeless center is still operating, but it is limiting services to handing out breakfast and lunch items in to-go bags at the front gate.
Food donations that St. Vincent de Paul Bakersfield has been dependent on have been a main concern the past few days.
"Restaurants and business often donate leftover food items," Leary explained. "Because the restaurants and businesses are in the process of being closed and they need to support their employees and are busy doing to-go services, we’re not getting the support, which we totally understand."
Even groups who come in to prepare meals, mainly consisting of elderly individuals, are staying home.
But now is not a time to leave homeless individuals who depend on meals empty-handed, St. Vincent de Paul staff decided. Instead, they're looking to the community in hopes of receiving donations.
"I’m calling people to see if we can get any type of donations, especially food, so we can give out our sack breakfasts and lunches," said Javier Rizo, center coordinator. He has also reached out to a few businesses, but efforts have mainly depended on people's kindness.
Close to 150 meals are served for both breakfast and lunch. The past few days the center has been serving breakfast burritos and sandwiches, so items such as tortillas, eggs, potatoes, bread, bologna, peanut butter and jelly are in high demand, along with fresh fruit, granola bars and cookies. Lunch bags, sandwich bags, aluminum foil and saran wrap are also needed.
Donations can be dropped off at 316 Baker St., or left at the front door for St. Vincent de Paul staff to pick-up. Individuals can contact St. Vincent de Paul during the mornings at 323-2941, Leary at 809-2491 and Rizo at 706-7336 for more information or to schedule a pick-up.
Monetary donations can also be sent to: P.O. Box 3255, Bakersfield, CA, 93305.
"We’re a family here," Leary said. "We’re going to stick together, we’re going to make sure we’re going to get through this."