For Sharon Sides, Valentine’s Day is nice but sharing love with neighbors is a year-round endeavor.
She celebrated Feb. 14 last year by launching a project with Peace Lutheran Church in Mill Valley to support low-income seniors at the nearby Fireside Apartments, where they deliver a monthly “Make It Yourself” brown bag meal.
The effort has grown from 15 seniors to serve 26 seniors and families at Fireside, where Homeward Bound of Marin coordinates support services. The Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation recently awarded a $5,000 grant to the project.
“These are our neighbors. They could be my grandparents,” says Sharon, a San Rafael resident. “I think everyone could be doing this for someone in their community.”
The funds not only will cover the budget for rounding out the bags with fresh fruit, vegetables and extras but also allow expansion to more people. All residents of the 50-unit Fireside Apartments qualify as low-income.
Along with the grant award, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation invited the project to participate in a match program: for every donated dollar received by March 31, the foundation will donate an extra 50 cents.
“Difficult economic conditions and high unemployment rates have caused many Americans to seek support for basic needs,” says Kathy Larson, grants program manager for the foundation. “This grant program is designed to help effective organizations maintain their financial stability in the face of increased demand on their resources.”
The success of the project lies in its simplicity for both Peace Lutheran members and for recipients who may not have time or inclination for much cooking, Sharon says.
She prepares a yearly calendar showing meals planned for each month, from chili and cornbread to tuna noodle casserole. Members of the congregation can review a list of needed items and bring donated ingredients to the church.
“We want it to be easy for the congregation to support and easy for people to make, but we don’t want everything to be in a can,” she says. The “bagging team” meets every second Tuesday of the month to fill bags with a recipe, ingredients and extras, then deliver door-to-door at the apartments.
“It’s great for our residents,” says Micha Berman, program coordinator at Fireside. “It’s quick, just people coming to the door to say hello and bring food, but it helps a lot.”
Among the comments he’s heard from seniors at Fireside: “I love it and the people are so nice!” and “It's wonderful to look forward to -- I am very grateful.”
Support for the "Make It Yourself" brown bag program can be sent to Make It Yourself Bags/Peace Lutheran Church, 205 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley, CA 94941, attn: Sharon Sides.