By Sister Christina Heltsley, executive director of St. Francis Center
You have to know the story of Saint Francis to understand the culture of Redwood City's St. Francis Center. Like the St. Francis Center, Saint Francis of Assisi certainly embraced the economically poor, but more than that he set out to walk with them to change their lives, he advocated for them when he spoke truth to power, and he did not back down in trying to get their unmet needs met! Where some would throw up their hands in despair and walk away from the enormity of challenges associated with being economically desperate, Saint Francis of Assisi dug in, networked and created solutions. Giving up was not a part of his make-up. The St. Francis Center shares that same DNA!
The center began as a food and clothing program, but evolved, over 32 years, into a multiservice, nonprofit serving families in the Bay Area. The center is a non-affiliated 501(c)3 charitable foundation offering food, clothing, educational programming, seminars for parents, GED and ESL programs, after-school youth programs, two large community gardens, a children's lending library, and 135 units of low-income housing.
Since it keeps its finger on the pulse of the communities it serves, it is very probable that other services will develop in response to the signs of the times and the needs of people. Approximately 2,500 people each month find their way to the center for assistance offered in a caring and nonjudgmental way.
Silicon Valley, home to the center, is considered one of the most prosperous areas in the nation. However, poverty is easy to find. Most of the families served at the center are working two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet, and most spend more than half of their total income for housing.
Though rich in programs and services, the center has few paid staff. The mission of service is achieved due to the 200 selfless and joy-filled volunteers who participate in every program, from bagging groceries to tutoring children and adults. Their generosity means that most of every dollar that comes to the center, from private donors and foundations, can go directly to serving the client families.
For some, Saint Francis of Assisi has become a beautiful garden ornament, inviting birds and protecting gardens, but for the St. Francis Center, his spirit of generosity, peace and getting things done for the underserved is not encased in cement, but rather is fully alive! Come visit and see your much-appreciated donations, your investment in others, in action. The center is at 151 Buckingham Ave. in Redwood City. Learn more at stfrancisrwc.org. To donate to The Almanac's 2018 Holiday Fund, click here, or find the donation coupon in The Almanac's print edition to donate offline.