by Anne Batty
Great things are happening on Calle Negocio in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park. Upon entering the building you feel it, it’s in the air … the compassion; the caring; the concern. It’s a haven, one where those in need are treated with dignity, given hope and a helping hand; not just a hand-out. A place where solutions are found and problems solved. It is the home of Family Assistance Ministries (FAM), a humanitarian, faith-based, non-profit organization aiming to prevent hunger and homelessness in South Orange County.
Birthed in 1999 in a tiny room in a building in downtown San Clemente by resident Ellen Gilchrist and a few volunteers; it has evolved from a small group serving just a handful, into a philanthropy housed in a large commercial building serving tens of thousands.
“It’s amazing to think that one woman had a vision for helping the needy in her immediate community and actually made it happen,” Executive Director Mary Gray Perdue commented. “She and her volunteers distributed food with only a bookcase for storage. From there her vision has grown from helping a few in one community to helping the needy in several communities in south Orange County … We hope we’ve made Ellen proud.”
While it may be thought that FAM is only in the business of handing out food and clothing, nothing could be further from the truth. This non-profit organization helps clients find ways to stop needing such hand-outs. To that end, along with basic provisions every client receives case management and a financial plan. After listening to their stories, determining their dilemma, then working alongside them, case workers guide individuals/families toward ways in which they can begin to help themselves.
“Ellen’s first client in September 1999 needed rental assistance to avoid eviction,” Perdue explained. “With FAM’s help, within 30 days that individual got a job and soon became self-sustaining again. This is the vision of the organization, to help the homeless and those on the brink of homelessness become self-sufficient and find their way back.”
Every life has a story, some pleasant some not, and as Mary Gray Perdue speaks anonymous examples of those seeking help from FAM her voice trembles and her eyes fill. This emotion stems from hearing the difficulties these clients face, and from understanding how hard it is for them to have to ask for help. This is what motivates Perdue, her staff and the volunteers to give their time to this organization. Their reward comes when they see clients use the resources offered to regain their independence, dignity and place in society. It is the happy endings that keep everyone involved, working tirelessly to serve those in such desperate need.
“What touches us the most is the thanks our clients express in person and in notes,” Mary shared. “Some want to give back with donations and even their time. They want to help others like they have been helped. They are very grateful, and nothing gives us more pleasure than closing a case and knowing our former clients are doing well.”
How it All Works
Those seeking help from FAM are assigned to a case manager who listens to their story to find out what’s going on. Then, doing their best to fill immediate needs- food, clothing, shelter, transportation - these case managers assist clients to retrain their thinking. Together they look at their financial numbers, make a budget and form a plan designed to help them get back on track. But until that happens, the case managers continue working alongside them, encouraging, supporting, and filling their most urgent needs while clients do the hard work of putting their lives back together. Clients are never forced. The case managers are only there to help them see the ways in which they can become self-sustaining once again.
The necessities available to clients at FAM include: rental assistance paid directly to landlords; motel vouchers; Gilchrist House a 26-room homeless women/children’s shelter named after Ellen; a client-choice food pantry; bus passes; and whatever else might be of urgency.
Long-term provisions include: help with budgeting; an onsite job coach; a Cox Communications computer tech center available for job searches and resumes; professional attire freely offered at an onsite clothing boutique complete with beautifully crafted storage wardrobes made and donated by a local Eagle Scout; free income/state tax services and much more.
Facts and Figures
While FAM’s main office is conveniently located across from an OCCTA bus stop, in an effort to be even more accessible to clients they have recently opened two satellite locations. In partnership with the Community Presbyterian Church in San Juan Capistrano and St. Edward’s San Felipe de Jesus Church in Capistrano Beach, staff and volunteers man these distribution centers weekly on Wednesday and Friday respectively from 11 am to 2 pm. Food, clothing and case management are made available at these locations as well.
Named one of the top 2015 Orange County Non-profits by the Orange County Business Journal FAM depends on grants and community participation/donations for a successful operation. Keeping their administration and fundraising costs at a modest 6% … all remaining funds/donations go directly toward helping the needy.
FAM’s 400 plus partnerships with local businesses, food service providers, grocers, local organizations and in-kind benefactors (too numerous to name) speak of the community’s generosity and desire to help. It is this generosity of goods, monetary donations and volunteer hours that enable this organization to feed over 3,600 people monthly, to unify families and to achieve their goal of ending hunger and homelessness in South Orange County.
FAM is open to visitors on the 2nd and 4th Mondays at 3:30pm. To tour, volunteer, make a donation, or just find out more please call (949)492-8477.