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FOCUS Minnesota offering "second helping" to those in need of food


FMN food shelfStarting May 12, FOCUS Minnesota will open its new Second Helping Food Shelf to serve those individuals and families who need supplemental and emergency food.


FOCUS MN Director Vera Proctor said that the new food shelf will “fill in the gaps” for those who run out of food at the end of the month or those who may have received some food from other food assistance programs but still do not have enough to feed themselves or their families.


“We hope to be able to help 30-50 people each week,” Proctor said. “We have a volunteer who has developed a software database for us that will help us keep an accurate inventory of our supplies and handle the intake and registration of our guests.”


Proctor said the database will be helpful in providing demographics for the guests that will be using the service. And to help the process run smoothly, anyone wishing to receive the free food supplements will have to pre-register through FOCUS MN before the weekly pick-up day.


When Proctor began researching how to set up the food pantry she realized she would need some quality storage for all the products and a safe place to keep it.


FMN food shelf 2“Volunteers really helped bring this project together,” Proctor said. “All but two of our shelves were donated and the cage was sold to us at cost by the distributor who heard what it was going to be used for.”


Sheffield and Nouli Priest, members of Christ the Saviour OCA Church, installed the cage and in the end donated the remaining costs of the cage. Home Depot donated two of the shelving systems for the pantry and Sam’s Club gave FOCUS MN $50 off of the cost of the shelves from their warehouse.


Proctor said John Pound, also from Christ the Saviour OCA Church, has been instrumental in picking up and delivering the food and other staples.


The food for FOCUS MN’s Second Helping Food Shelf comes from the local Hope for the City Food Bank and from individual and church donations as well.

“Eventually, as we get the hang of things, we hope to tailor our services to fit the needs of those who regularly depend on the food shelf,” Proctor said. “For instance, our homeless guests may prefer to have bottled water and granola bars, but families will need things like Bisquick mix, cereal, rice, and meat.”


Proctor said they mainly need non-perishable goods like peanut butter, jelly, and rice, but things like cereal and small (2-lb) packages of ground beef are also in great demand.


Loving our neighbors by helping provide adequate and safe shelter


This is the fifth and final post in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors. To read the first post click here! To read the second post click here! To read the third post click here! To read the fourth post click here! To read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it click here!


child2Recent estimates by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty stated that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.  Some are transitionally homeless, living with friends, family or in hotel rooms. Others are depending on homeless shelters and transitional housing. Some simply live on the streets.


Part of FOCUS North America’s initiative for providing holistic life recovery is by helping those who have no home find a safe place to live and by helping low-income individuals and families who do have a home keep it safe and in good repair. Helping provide adequate and safe SHELTER is one more way FOCUS NA shows love for our neighbor.

The National Coalition for the Homeless found that up to 25% of homeless individuals in some states are employed. Over the last 20 years the lack of affordable housing has become the main reason for homelessness, the Coalition reported.


And the working poor who do have a roof over their heads often live in depressed areas with high crime rates, low home values, and limited resources. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the recession has caused an almost five-fold increase in the rate of overcrowding in homes and apartments, suggesting that families and individuals are living with family and friends in an effort to avoid living on the streets


When Tanny read in the newspaper about the good work being done by FOCUS Pittsburgh, she thought she might find help there as well. The young mother of two had been evicted from her home after losing her job. Forced to split her family up between three friends’ homes, Tanny was desperate, Paul Abernathy, FOCUS Pittsburgh Director said.


“We assessed her situation,” Abernathy said. “Through a series of circumstances, she was able to move into a three-bedroom house.”


Abernathy said through generous donations and hard-working volunteers, FOCUS Pittsburgh was able to furnish Tanny’s house, connect her with an energy assistance program so she could get her electricity turned on, and even assist her in applying for a nurses’ aid program through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


But, Abernathy said, probably the most important thing was that Tanny was able to be reunited with her children.


FOCUS Pittsburgh’s efforts to set Tanny up in her new house, drew the attention of a local developer working in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. “The run-down housing projects in the neighborhood are being demolished and will eventually be replaced by new Section 8 housing,” Abernathy said. “Many of the families won’t be able to move their belongings into the new housing because of the filth and bugs in the old projects. They will be starting over.”


The Hill District Community Development Corporation suggested the FOCUS Pittsburgh take on the mission of helping these families start over in their new homes with fresh, clean furnishings.


“We see this as a very specific need for this neighborhood,” Abernathy said. “We want to be able to mobilize the materials and labor necessary to help these people enter their new homes with the things they will need.”


GTWC-4Another way FOCUS NA is working to provide shelter for those in need is by helping those who have a place to live keep it safe and in good repair. Recent Census Bureau Reports indicated that compared to the general population of homeowners, low-income homeowners generally lived in smaller, older houses and had houses with a lower value. Sixteen percent of low-income homeowners live in a house that is in moderate to serious need of repair.


Simple repair problems left undone due to lack of resources or physical ability, quickly become bigger problems exposing homeowners to health and safety risks.


When Barbara received a letter from the city to repair her crumbled front steps, she wasn’t sure how she would get it done. Elderly, disabled and a widow, Barbara had no resources for such a task.


“We found Barbara through a local church database that gathered requests for home repairs,” Eric Shanburn, Director of FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis, MO, said. “We fixed her steps, patched her foundation, secured her railing and did some painting as well.”


Shanburn said the goal was to help the elderly, and especially widows, with repairing and making their homes safer. Before he knew it, Shanburn and a host of FOCUS GC volunteers had completed about 30 repair projects for those in need just on Barbara’s block. “We started with one woman and ended up helping a whole neighborhood,” Shanburn said.


Whether through rent assistance, rapid transition to housing counseling and support, providing furniture and utility assistance or by helping with necessary repairs for the elderly and disabled, FOCUS NA is embracing the gospel mandate to love our neighbor.


Click here to read about FOCUS Appalachia’s home repair projects for the working poor in Yancy County, North Carolina!


"I was a stranger and you invited me in."


This is the fourth post in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S) to our neediest neighbors. To read the first post click here! To read the second post click here! To read the third post click here! To read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it click here!

Poverty has many faces and doesn’t always look like the stereotypes people ascribe to it. The Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates that there are over 9 million working poor families in the United States.

DSC_0076The impact of poverty on people is overwhelming. Poor individuals and families face a complex and wide-ranging set of challenges including:

  • housing and food insecurity; lack of quality childcare
  • transportation problems; low-level education and limited English skills
  • lack of job skills, especially those that could lead to advancement
  • higher instances of substance abuse, metal health problems and domestic violence
  • more than half of poor families only have one parent in the home.

Children are profoundly affected by poverty in that they often live in a home in an unsafe neighborhood without a phone, transportation, and other basic needs. Poor children generally have health problems, including obesity and other activity-limiting conditions.


Studies also show that children living in poverty experience higher instances of emotional, behavioral and learning challenges including depression, anxiety, social challenges, earning disabilities or developmental delays.


These great challenges to the poor are exactly why FOCUS North America takes a holistic approach to its philosophy of life recovery. Often what people need most is someone to try and UNDERSTAND what they are going through.


Simple acts of kindness can have restorative power. At FOCUS North America, those we serve are not “clients” they are our “guests.” Calling someone a guest assumes that there is a relationship, even a friendship.


IMG_8131At the FOCUS San Diego Center, the homeless men and women attending the community meals appreciate that the volunteers sit and talk with them. It isn’t a soup line where you shuffle through and take your seat.

Volunteers serve the guests and then sit and join them for dinner and conversation.


Patty Diaz, Ministry Coordinator for FOCUS SD, said that another aspect of the community meal that guests appreciate is the availability of a priest to talk to or pray with.


“Many of our guests are seeking pastoral care,” Diaz said. “Many confide in the priests the things they have done wrong and ask them to pray for their forgiveness.”


A listening ear and kind conversation can provide a redemptive atmosphere for building true community. Part of understanding someone’s struggles is being open to walking with them in their journey.


When Luis walked into the FOCUS Minnesota Center, he said he wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he knew he needed help.


Luis had always been a hard worker. His shifts at Burger King had been just barely enough for him to live on, but with severe health problems and facing open-heart surgery, Luis could no longer work and was at risk of losing his modest apartment as well.


“Luis is like many of the working poor,” Vera Proctor, Director of FOCUS MN, said. “He lived hand-to-mouth, he had no safety net, no savings, no family.”


Proctor said he was also afraid he was going to die in surgery. “We helped him with a living will,” Proctor said. “We advocated for him so he could get the necessary help he needed to keep his apartment while he was unable to work.”


Volunteers he had met at the FOCUS MN Center drove him to the hospital for his surgery and visited him as he was recovering in the hospital.


“Luis came into the Center one day after his surgery and said he just wanted to tell us ‘thank you because he couldn’t have gotten through all this on his own.’”


student-n-homelessAnother way FOCUS NA is trying to bring understanding is through its YES! (Youth Equipped to Serve) Program. YES! provides an opportunity for young people to spend a weekend serving and learning about their neediest neighbors. By challenging youth to see Christ in "the least of these" we hope they will come through the program equipped to make a difference in their neighborhoods--to serve those in need and to inspire and lead others to do the same.


The understanding component of FOCUS NA’s ministry is hard to quantify, but is quite probably the most valuable part of what FOCUS NA does. Restoring dignity may start with meeting the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but offering friendship, kindness and a listening ear can truly be life-giving and is vital to FOCUS NA’s calling to see Christ in our neediest neighbor.


Click here to read the fifth post in this Lenten series!


Click here to learn more about YES! North America!

Click here to read more about the understanding men are finding through FOCUS ReEngage!

Check out this video from FOCUS St. Louis and listen to what some of our guests there have to say about how they have been impacted by the work of FOCUS St. Louis! ">    


"I needed clothes and you clothed me."


This is the third post in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors. To read the first post click here! To read the second post click here! To read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it click here!

Homeless_Girl_smWorking poor and homeless individuals are relying more than ever on generous donations of clothing, shoes, coats, winter gear and other basic necessities. Already financially strained low-income families are often unable to purchase needed winter apparel.


Many homeless people remain in desperate need of shoes to protect their feet from the endless hours spent walking the streets. And without proper work boots, uniforms and work clothing, securing a job can be even more difficult.

At FOCUS North America, clothing our needy neighbors and helping provide other basic necessities is vital to restoring their dignity.


Vera Proctor, Director of FOCUS Minnesota, said that as expenses continue to increase and income remains stagnant or even lessens among the working poor, the clothing closet at the FOCUS MN Center will continue to be an important part of its ministry outreach.


work_wardrobe“We take in donations weekly,” Proctor said. “We recently had a donation of nine pallets of really good clothing.” Bill Hoeft, Vice Chair of the FOCUS NA board and owner of Zeigler Cat dealerships, engaged employees at three of his dealerships in collecting the nine pallets of clothing for those in need.


“Some people need clothes for work,” Proctor said. “Others simply need a coat because they don’t have one.” She remembered a woman who recently came into the FOCUS MN Center. “It was cold and drizzly Minnesota winter day and she was wearing flip-flops,” she said.


The FOCUS Central Florida Center services a mainly homeless population and when volunteer Tara Councelman was asked by a homeless man at the weekly FOCUS CF community meal if she had a “wish list” for things people might need, she decided she probably should.


Councelman found that the greatest need for the regular guests at the FOCUS CF Center was shoes—heavy work boots and sturdy tennis shoes. “Some of the people were barefoot and others’ shoes were torn or worn through because they walk so much,” Councelman said.


FOCUS CF has also teamed up with a local Laundromat to offer laundry services for homeless and working poor individuals. Being clean and presentable for a job is difficult if you do not have the resources to wash clothing.


Aside from protecting people from the elements, appropriate work clothing can often mean the difference between getting a job or not.


“One of our regular guests at our Sunday meal completed her training to be a paralegal,” Jacob Lee, Director of FOCUS Orange County in California, said. “She was really excited that she found a suit at our clothing closet that she could wear to her interview.”


And when she was invited back to her second interview, Lee said, she told him she really felt it was partly because she looked professional thanks to the work clothes FOCUS OC provided.


In addition to helping provide clothing, FOCUS NA offers assistance with other basic needs. Last Fall, FOCUS OC gave away over 300 backpacks stocked with back-to-school supplies to homeless kids living in motels in Orange County.

care-kit1Basic hygiene supplies are also in great demand for poor families and individuals living on the streets or in cramped hotel rooms. FOCUS Care Kits are another way to provide necessities such as soap, shampoo, deodorant and toothbrushes to those in need. Basic hygiene supplies are necessary to maintain health but can also restore a sense of dignity and confidence.


Proctor said that the FOCUS MN Center is also trying to connect those in need with donors who can provide furniture and other items. A recent delivery of a donated bedroom set to a working poor family’s apartment left Proctor with a better understanding of how some of the folks who frequent the weekly community meal are living.


“We walked into the apartment where a few families were living together and there was nothing in the apartment,” Proctor said. “It was a vivid reminder of the great need around us. They had shelter, but not much else.”


Click here to read the fourth post in this Lenten series!

Click here to find out how you can help with FOCUS Care Kits!


The blessing of discomfort, anger, tears and foolishness


This prayer is said at the final debrief of YES! North America trips. It is a challenging prayer and worth considering during this time of preparation for the Resurrection of the Lord. As you pray for God to change your heart, for your own resurrection, do not forget how you may need to be transformed through the service and intercession of others. Let us pray to the Lord ...




May God bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

So that you may live deep within your heart.


May God bless you with anger

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.


May God bless you with tears

To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and

To turn their pain into joy.


And may God bless you with enough foolishness

To believe that you can make a difference in the world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done

To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.




Meaningful Work Provides First Step Towards Life Recovery


This is the second post in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors.  To read the first post in this series click here! To read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it click here!

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that for the first time since 2007
there were more job gains than losses at the end of 2010, the unemployment rate for the United States as of March 15, 2011, was a shocking 9.5%. And unfortunately many working people still can’t afford to pay their bills.


The Working Poor Families Project estimates that one out of three families in the U.S. is considered “low income.” And, according to the Project, the number of working poor families continues to increase at a staggering pace, with 45 million people, including 22 million children, living in low-income working families. That is an increase of 1.7 million people since 2008.


The Project reported that more than half of working Americans “suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers” since the recession began in December 2007.

In addition to the difficulty in finding work is the likelihood that working poor families are still limited to part-time work with no benefits and are generally paid minimum wage.

work_helpThe need for OCCUPATIONAL assistance is great and at FOCUS North America the goal is to take our guests from a place of great need to a place of life recovery and self-sufficiency.

Eric Shanburn, Director of FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis, MO, said that time and time again when he asks guests at the free Sunday-night community meal what they need the most, they say, “WORK!”


“Without work, they have no money,” Shanburn said. “Without money, there is no food or clothing and no place to live.”


FOCUS Gateway City provides community members with access to a computer lab for skills development, filing applications and job searches. Shanburn said they also address issues like how to dress for a job, the importance of being on time, and how to manage money. Guests can also have clothes from the working wardrobe so they have something decent to wear to an interview or good work boots and other work necessities.


work_wardrobeBut how to get people from a place of desperation to a place of self-sufficiency is a difficult question to answer. And with recent reports indicating that there are almost five times as many unemployed workers as there are job openings, the competition is very tough.


“One of the guys coming to our Sunday night meals lives in his van down by the river,” Shanburn said. “He used to do pavement work, but now he is depressed, he’s dirty. He wants to work, but he needs a lot of help.”


Shanburn said that homeless individuals are at the bottom of the jobless pool. “Part of where we have to begin in helping these folks is by building relationships with business owners in our communities so they will be willing to work with the people we are trying to help,” Shanburn said. “Many of these folks want a job but they are starting with nothing.”


Bridging the gap between these homeless men and women and people in their own community who might be willing to take a chance on hiring them to do low-skilled work like washing dishes is a critical step in moving people towards self-sufficiency

Shanburn said that for those who are among the working poor or are homeless the steps are simple but take time—learn a skill, use it, become self-sufficient.


5979438.28The addition of the new FOCUS ReEngage Program will provide a comprehensive job readiness and workforce initiative at FOCUS Centers nationwide.


FOCUS ReEngage is built upon proven social work principles and a strong Orthodox Christian foundation with the goal of those who complete the program being “ready to get a job, with the skills to keep a job, and with the necessary life skills to further their own life development,” Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of FOCUS North America said.


Developed with the assistance of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the FOCUS ReEngage Program has seen many successful pilots in 2010 and has earned the endorsement of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO).


FOCUS ReEngage Director, Rodney Knott, said that getting people ready to work is the first step. “This is where we begin to teach people how to fish, so to speak,” Knott said. “We aren’t going to just feed them and leave them. We want them to leave here ready to fish on their own.”


Through an intensive 12-week program, participants in the FOCUS ReEngage Program will receive skills training and learn the importance of work ethics, communication skills, self-discipline, time management, budgeting, and how to develop a personal plan for the future.


Steve, a recent graduate of FOCUS ReEngage’s Man Class said he really learned the things he needed to know to get a job and live on his own.


“It’s the stuff my dad’s been trying to tell me for years, and I never listened to him,” Steve said. After completing the program Steve found a job and is moving from transitional housing into his own apartment.


Whether it is through building relationships with area business owners so homeless men and women can find work or helping to further the skills and training of low-income earners and equipping them with the necessary skills to move into a place of self-sufficiency, the calling for FOCUS North America is the same—to care for our neediest neighbors, restoring these living icons that adorn the church of the world.


Click here to read the third post in this Lenten series!

Click here to read the fourth post in this Lenten series!


FOCUS ReEngage Furthers Holistic Approach to Life Recovery


KnottFOCUS North America is blessed to have Rodney Knott join its ministry team. As the Director of FOCUS ReEngage and Gifts In-Kind Solicitor for FOCUS NA, Knott will implement the successful education, mentoring and counseling initiatives of FOCUS ReEngage in FOCUS Centers nationwide.


“The FOCUS ReEngage curriculum furthers the occupational initiatives of FOCUS through its job readiness and soft skills education, while simultaneously furthering the understanding component of FOCUS by incorporating fundamental life recovery elements,” Father Justin Mathews, FOCUS North America Executive Director, said.


Knott said he is looking forward to expanding the program in other FOCUS Centers. At the heart of FOCUS ReEngage is the rebuilding of people’s lives through education, mentoring, counseling, job training, and helping individuals develop their own sense of purpose.


“The nature of poverty that we are addressing today is different than it was in the past,” Knott said. “More than just a physical lack, today people have a real emotional and spiritual lack.”


Knott said that these emotional and spiritual needs require different solutions. “If we don’t address the emotional and spiritual needs, then the efforts we put forth to address the physical needs won’t change the long term outcome for people,” he said.


One of the purposes of the FOCUS ReEngage’s Man Class, a 12-week educational component of FOCUS ReEngage, is to redefine manhood. Knott said for many men, young and old, living in impoverished communities means a definition of manhood that embraces violence, conflict, idleness, negativity, abandonment, and a lack of desire to better oneself. “If we can help these young men understand what it means to be a man—How should I behave? What is my role in my family? What is my role in my community? How can I support myself?—We can help them change the outcome of their lives,” Knott said.


“We want these men to leave the 12-week program ready to get a job, with the skills to keep a job, and with the necessary life skills to further their own life development,” Mathews said. “The FOCUS Center is the perfect environment for this curriculum to be implemented in because it provides those we serve with an in-depth, holistic life recovery program.”


FOCUS ReEngage is a work readiness program that was developed in 2009 with ReEngage, Inc. and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Social Work. The program has seen many successful pilots in 2010 and has been endorsed by Congessman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO). The FOCUS ReEngage program will eventually include a parallel curriculum to the Man Class for women. Mathews said the FOCUS ReEngage curriculum is built upon proven social work principles and a strong Orthodox foundation.


Part of the expansion of FOCUS ReEngage’s efforts will also include a secondary Man Class that will have a decidedly Orthodox Christian foundation. This second version will incorporate wisdom from the holy fathers, scripture and an Orthodox worldview, Knott said.


“The psychology of poverty for many amounts to an attitude that ‘nothing is possible,’” Knott said. “This is what we want to change for people. We want people to expand their dreams for what is possible. Empowered parents empower their children and then we begin to see communities change.”


FOCUS Appalachia team transformed by serving others


Bad weather and a last minute change of projects didn’t dampen the spirits of 21 FOCUS Appalachia volunteers who spent March 7-12 working and serving in the mountains of North Carolina.


The group of young adults from all over the Northeast set out from Pittsburgh with the vision to serve others and also to use the time together to reflect on their own spiritual needs.


Niko Petrogeorge, FOCUS North America National Ministries intern, was charged with planning and leading the trip. And although the group had planned on working together on outside home repair for a disabled couple, freezing rain dictated a necessary change in plans.


The group was rerouted to the Quiet Reflection Retreat Center in the mountains232323232fp733-9nu32-49697WSNRCG353423-32nu0mrj outside Asheville, North Carolina. The retreat center is run by a newly chrismated Orthodox couple who invite people to use the beautiful land and center for reflection and prayer. Badly in need of upkeep and repairs, the couple appreciated the efforts by the FOCUS Appalachia team, realizing that their hard work at the retreat center would benefit many people in the coming year.


In spite of the hard weather the group managed to erect a rock retaining wall to slow erosion, mulch, build needed chairs for the center, paint the inside of the lodge and much more.


“We realized after we arrived, that the retreat directors definitely needed our manual labor,” Petrogeorge said. “But they also needed the support of their Orthodox brothers and sisters too.” He said the couple participated with the group in the services, prayers, teaching and times of reflection.


“We had decided on the theme, Come and See, for the trip,” Petrogeorge said. “But the real theme of our trip ended up being about transfiguration. The trip really was about us saying ‘Thank you’. We went to serve, but we realized we needed to be there ... It was good to be there. We were so grateful.”


Petrogeorge said the group quickly become friends and were great examples of Christ’s love to one another and the couple they were serving. He was impressed with the group's willingness to serve and adapt to the change in projects.


“One of the young men who was with us wasn’t Orthodox,” Petrogeorge said. “He remarked after one of the services we had that he felt he had been selfish his whole life and he felt very challenged because he had never really experienced that type of love and community before.”


The FOCUS Appalachia program aims to provide meaningful short-term service and work projects for groups in the Appalachian Mountain region. Part of the FOCUS Appalachia experience also involves guided reflections, spiritual teaching, prayer and leisure time to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. Through prayer, work, teaching and time together, FOCUS Appalachia trips provide a holistic approach to retreat and service.


*If you or your church group wants to participate in a service trip with FOCUS Appalachia, please call Bryan Dahms, National Director of Ministries, at 866-267-3083 or email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . FOCUS NA will connect you with the appropriate project for your skills and budget and will arrange lodging, meals and other logistics. 





































































"I was hungry and you gave me something to eat."


This post is the first in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors. Click here to read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it!


IMG_5800American leaders, policy makers and social action groups received a wake-up call last year when the Department of Agriculture reported a record high 49 million Americans “who lived in households that lack consistent access to adequate food.”


Lack of money forces family members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food. Others rely on government aid like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), the National School Lunch Program, or visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.


In July 2010 the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty revealed a 26% increase in the need for food assistance, with 25% of those needs going unmet.


FOCUS North America takes seriously the revelation of Christ’s own words that “Whenever you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me … I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”


FOOD assistance is only one of the elements of our national initiative to restore and renew those who are living in poverty to a place of health, stability and recovery. Serving hot, nutritious meals for free is often our first introduction to our needy neighbors.


Our FOCUS Orange County center may be located in beautiful Southern California and smack in the middle of one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, but with one in five Californian families struggling to have enough food according to the most recent report by the Food Research and Action Center, it is also in an area where people are desperate for help. Neighboring Riverside County reported that 26% of its residents did not have enough money to buy the food they needed, making it the second highest metropolitan county in America for food needs. Nearby Fresno County had the highest percentage in the nation, with 27% of its residents going hungry.


FOCUS OC Director Jacob Lee and a team of volunteers are working hard to make sure that needy families living at the Valencia Inn have access to emergency food assistance through its food pantry and at least one hot, nutritious meal each week through its free Sunday dinner served family-style right at the motel. Between 100-150 people are served each week.


The Valencia Inn is home to 350 transitionally homeless individuals. They can’t make enough money to put a deposit on an apartment, often have exhausted other resources for shelter with family and friends, and want to avoid homeless shelters because they aren’t able to stay together as a family.


Lee said that in addition to the obvious barrier to food—lack of money—are the additional barriers of a lack of education about nutrition, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and pride.


“When people are high they can’t make a good choice about getting food for themselves or their families,” Lee said. “And sometimes people are just too proud to show up and ask for help.”


The problem with these barriers to getting necessary food assistance is that children often are at the mercy of the adults that are supposed to be taking care of them.


Lee said that when Sally’s 4th birthday was approaching, a couple of volunteers wanted to do something special for her.


“Her family usually comes to the Sunday night meals,” Lee said. “One volunteer from St. Luke’s Antiochian Church brought her a present and another volunteer from St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church made her a birthday cake.”


But when the meal was being served, Sally’s family wasn’t there. “I asked the motel manager what room the family was in so that we could give Sally her birthday present and cake,” Lee said. “When we got to the door and told them it was us, Sally’s mom decided to bring Sally down to have dinner and birthday cake.”


Lee said the hard part about families in these dire circumstances is that their children go without. “If we hadn’t knocked on their door Sally wouldn’t have eaten that night,” Lee said.


Each FOCUS Center begins its community outreach with providing the basic need of FOOD. It is where we begin, but it is only one element of our mission to bring people to full life recovery. Perhaps by helping meet the immediate need of filling an empty stomach, we can step further with our neighbor along this path of recovery.


For the second article in this Lenten series click here!

For the third article in this Lenten series click here!

For the fourth article in this Lenten series click here!


FOCUS NA operates regular meal services for the homeless and working poor at each of its locations: FOCUS OC, FOCUS San Diego, FOCUS Central Florida, FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis, FOCUS Kansas City, FOCUS Minnesota, FOCUS Pittsburgh. It also works closely with partner ministries to bolster their efforts in meeting the needs of people in their communities.

Click here to see how a FOCUS NA grant enabled one small Pennsylvania church to double the amount of food assistance it provides for needy families in its town.

Click here to watch recent “60 Minutes” video about working poor families living in motels!   


F.O.C.U.S.--Our Holistic Approach to Life Recovery


Matthew 25 admonishes us to consider others as Christ in our midst—the stranger. In hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, loneliness, and imprisonment we find the stranger, our neighbor and our Lord.


With economists and analysts forecasting an improvement in our beat-down

family-in-shadows economy, recent surveys of American families remind us that those at the bottom are still there and the climb up is long and hard. FOCUS North America is committed to play an active part in lifting those in poverty from their desperate state.


By providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter, FOCUS NA hopes to reveal God’s mercy to our most needy neighbors. And through its Youth Equipped to Serve (YES!) Program, FOCUS NA is raising up a generation of young people eager to understand the needs of others and how God can use them to make a difference. Our FOCUS Centers are on the front lines of this ministry.


So what is a FOCUS Center?

Motivated by the Orthodox Christian tradition, FOCUS Centers are local offices of FOCUS NA run by a full-time Director with the support of a dedicated ministry leadership team that mobilizes volunteers, resources and partnerships within a community to provide vital services to working poor and homeless people in a given area.


FOCUS Centers provide:

  • Food—hot, nutritious meals served family style, food pantries in conjunction with the USDA and other food banks, nutrition services, emergency supplies and community gardens
  • Occupational Training—job preparedness, employee assistance services, computer skills, resume writing workshops, social-entrepreneurial initiatives, and community re-entry services
  • Clothing—working clothes wardrobes, clothing closets, care kits and material aid
  • Understanding—clinical social work counseling, mentoring, fatherhood initiatives, life-recovery classes, drug and alcohol recovery programs, Orthodox Christian spiritual life classes, community building activities, and money management workshops
  • Shelter—home repair for the elderly and disabled, domestic service and discipleship retreats, rapid transition to housing referrals, and rent/utilities assistance

Traditionally charities have picked one of these critical categories and focused all their efforts in that area. But life recovery is never about one issue. It is complex and requires hard work because each area affects another. That is why FOCUS NA has intentionally structured its centers to approach life recovery holistically, choosing to walk hand-in-hand with a single person over many miles of life recovery, rather than walking with a crowd a short distance to the next stepping stone.


A recent “60 Minutes” broadcast revealed the great difficulties facing people who have found themselves flung into poverty—hungry, without work, no money for basic needs including clothing and school supplies, alienated, misunderstood and homeless. This video is a reminder to us here at FOCUS of why we exist, why we do what we do, and how great a calling it is. Click here to watch the video!

Follow us through Lent as each week we feature one of these valuable components of FOCUS NA’s ministry initiatives. Get to know the needs of those around you. Learn how you can get involved in helping those whose needs are so great. Find a FOCUS Center near you, or plug into the outreach programs that may be active in your local church. Make this Lent one of reflection on the basic needs of your neighbors and how you might be able to impact them for the sake of Christ!


Week 1: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”


Week 2: Meaningful Work Provides First Step Towards Life Recovery


Week 3: "I needed clothes and you clothed me."


Week 4: "I was a stranger and you invited me in."


Week 5: Loving our neighbors by helping provide adequate and safe shelter


FOCUS Grant Enables More Mill-Town Meals


About a year and a half ago I met with several parishioners here at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts to see if there was some way that we could aid in the relief of the economic situation in town. St. Michael is a small older church in the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese and really had never been involved in anything like this.


Southbridge is an old mill Town like many in Massachusetts.  However it is one of the most economically depressed Towns

work_for_food in Central Massachusetts.  More than 12% of the 17,000 people are on unemployment and 15% live at or below the federal poverty limit.  Additionally, 23% of children under 18 hungry. We needed to do something.


We decided that we would begin a monthly community meal. Keep in mind we have never done this before and we did not even know where to begin nor how many people would show up. That first night we fed about 45 people and it has grown steady since that first night. We are very grateful to all of the folks that come and help us serve the meal it is just as important to them as it is to the folks that partake of the meal. The meal we serve has left a lasting impact on the entire church community.


Last fall we applied for a grant from FOCUS North America with the idea of expanding the meal from once a month to twice a month, looking toward a time that we would offer this meal once a week. January of this year saw our first twice-a-month meal and in February we had so many people that we actually ran out of food—and when I say ran out I am saying we had nothing! Luckily only the workers were unable to have something to eat and all of our guests were able to eat.

One thing I have noticed is that people come and eat and now they hang around and chat over a cup of coffee and a pastry and catch up with friends and really look at this as a social time for themselves. It has truly been a blessing. If it was not for the generosity of the donors to FOCUS North America and the FOCUS Board we would not have been able to expand this program. In our own small way we are able to help some very needy people survive a very trying time.


May God Bless the work of FOCUS North America!


Fr. Peter Preble is the pastor at St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Visit his website to learn more about his ministry.


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