What started out as a work team-building exercise for Beatriz Palmer quickly turned into a decade-long volunteering relationship that has touched numerous families, including her own.
After volunteering with colleagues to clean up Operation HOPE (Hope Outreach Providing Encouragement)-Vista, an emergency winter homeless shelter in San Diego that serves homeless families and single women with children, she accepted an invitation to return when residents were present. What she saw changed how she viewed her community and her family’s place in it.
“It really opened my eyes to the need in my own community,” she says. “When I returned to the shelter, I expected to see a homeless population like you see in the media – people who live under bridges. But, they were families just like us. That really hit me deeply.”
In fact, she saw herself under different circumstances as a young, single mother, working as an executive assistant and struggling to support her two kids after being abandoned by her husband. Beatriz knew then that she had to get her family and friends involved in supporting this endeavor.
Initially, her family reached out through their church to engage the shelter’s youth in Bible study, transporting the young residents to and from the church. Their involvement soon expanded to providing dinner for shelter residents once a month.
As a working class family, money is tight, but the Palmers have included the cost of the monthly dinner in their budget. Initially, feeding 45 people at the shelter cost $100, but that figure has grown to $250. Beatriz says she stays close to her Latin roots when planning menus, often making enchiladas and tostadas.
On meal days, cooking begins in her small kitchen no later than noon, and it’s a family – and sometimes community – affair. She focuses on the main dish, and neighbors will occasionally offer to make a side dish, like beans. Her children are responsible for the preparation work, such as chopping vegetables or shredding chicken, and they also handle salads, fruit and desserts. Her husband packs the car and ensures everything arrives safely at the shelter to begin serving at 5:30 p.m.
Serving the meal isn’t where their involvement stops, however.
“We don’t just serve the food,” she says. “We sit down with the residents. We ask about their days, and we interact with them.”
Talking and spending time with shelter residents has become such an important and integral part of her family’s life that Beatriz says her children – a son, age 22, and daughter, age 17 – rearrange their schedules to ensure that they can participate. In addition to providing a monthly meal, the family volunteers their time at the shelter every first and third Saturday, and this year marks the fourth Thanksgiving they will spend with the residents.
“My main goal is to teach my children to do something for someone who can’t repay you. That’s where the satisfaction comes in,” she says. “It’s an important legacy for my husband and me to give our children, the belief that they should give to others without expecting anything in return.”