What do the holidays mean for you? Maybe it is a warm cup of cocoa by the fire or seeing family and friends for a big holiday feast. It might be twinkling lights or lighting candles on the menorah. Or maybe it is a visit from Santa and his reindeer.
The holidays should be a time of warmth and love. But for too many of our neighbors, it can be a painful reminder of hardship and strife. On any given night in San Diego, more than 8,000 of our neighbors experience homelessness. Of these, 4,000 neighbors are unsheltered and living on the streets. Hunger, illness and exposure to the elements do not stop just because it’s Christmas time.
That is why, every holiday season, Father Joe’s Villages and the community come together to bring Christmas cheer to our neighbors experiencing houselessness. Staff and volunteers work together to provide everything from warm meals on Christmas Eve to gifts and clothing for the children staying in the organization’s shelters. For some neighbors in need, it may be the first time they’ve gotten to celebrate the holidays in years.
Sam, his partner and their four children came to Father Joe’s Villages earlier this year. They found more than shelter at Father Joe’s Villages – Sam and his family were able to get the help they needed to begin to thrive. Sam’s children enrolled in the therapeutic childcare program, which gave the children a safe place to play and learn and let Sam and his partner participate in job training to look for new careers. Sam was able to obtain a Security Guard card and secure employment, which gave him and his family much-needed stability.
After months working alongside Father Joe’s Villages, the family will soon be able to celebrate the holidays in a home of their own. Families who are enrolled in Father Joe’s Villages programs during the holidays also have a chance to celebrate while getting the support they need. Children of all ages attend the Children’s Christmas Party, organized every year by a group of dedicated volunteers. The children enjoy a festive dance, special sweet treat, holiday themed games and visit with Santa, all in a Winter Wonderland.
The Old Town Trolley Tour company also hosts a Christmas party for the children staying in Father Joe’s Villages’ shelters each year including food and drinks, special treats and gifts from Santa. Following the party, Santa and Mrs. Claus ride on the trolley with the children to enjoy San Diego’s holiday lights.
The Village Ladies Guild, a dedicated group of more than 250 women who have volunteered with the organization for nearly 40 years, raise money all year to provide parents at Father Joe’s Villages with a gift card to purchase gifts for their children. The gifts are wrapped and labeled and stored until Christmas Eve, when they are delivered to each child.
For Jesse Casement, Division Director of Client Services at Father Joe’s Villages, the annual Christmas activities have a deeper meaning. “It is seeing children smile again, sometimes for the first time in weeks that warms my heart,” she shared. “Many of these children finally have something to look forward to.”
“When families and children experience the joys of the Christmas season, they receive a more important gift – faith in a brighter future,” Deacon Jim Vargas, Father Joe’s Villages president and CEO shared with GB Magazine. “When people have faith, they can envision a brighter future for themselves and their families and take that first step towards ending their homelessness.”
This holiday season, give the gift of hope. Visit neighbor.org to learn more.