St. Mary’s Dining Room in Stockton started 60 years ago feeding homeless people. Today, it continues that tradition — but also puts clothes on their backs, tends to guests’ health, and helps people get back on their feet.
St. Mary’s exists mainly from donations, about $5 million a year to keep it going. A staff of 40, plus 50 to 100 volunteers a day, provides food, counseling, free medical and dental services, showers and clothes lockers.
CEO Edward Figueroa says most of the food is donated. “We’re able to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven days a week, 365 days a year, so the dining room never closes and we average just under a thousand meals a day,” he said.
Ramona Astacio and her three children are homeless. She says St. Mary’s has kept them from going hungry every night. “I thank God there is this place where I can come and have breakfast, lunch, and dinner like St. Mary’s because that is what has helped us survive,” she said.
And about one-third of the people who show up at meal time are families who have hit hard times, according to St. Mary’s staff.
Astacio says St. Mary’s is a critical safety-net institution in Stockton. “Sometimes people something happens drastically in their lives and they lose everything they have. You hit rock bottom and to come in and must have a meal and have somewhere to shower, put something one and this place has given me the clothes but just giving me a welcome,” she said.
Doctors and health practitioners also volunteer at St. Mary’s.
Dr. John Demshar is an optometrist who donates his time at the medical and dental clinic, giving eye exams to homeless people and those who can’t afford glasses.
Demshar says it’s not hard to see the need. “These people line up at two and three in the morning to be one of those first 12 to 15 people we see,” he said. “So, is there a need for us helping homeless people? Definitely. There’s more homeless people now than there ever was and I don’t think there’s enough doctors around to help.”
Other services — from antibiotics to dental fillings — are provided free of charge to whoever walks in.
Astacio says St. Mary’s was her last safety net when her son became extremely ill. “They treated him, they seen him in the clinic here, and they gave him medicine, antibiotics, because he had an infection in his throat and his ears,” she recalled. “My son was really sick, no clinic would take him.”
Learn more at StMarysDiningRoom.org.
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