I first visited Isaiah House in 2004, when HomeAid was evaluating a major upgrade project to give the 100 year-old home a face lift. The home needed a ton of love, additional bathrooms, and a remodeled kitchen that provided hundreds of meals a day to those who are homeless. Additionally, the backyard needed a shade structure, since this was where the residents congregated and many slept overnight.
I heard that different organizations regularly provided meals and services to the residents of the home and John Markel of the Mission Viejo Company had a group that came on the 3rd Sunday of every month. When I first came to volunteer on John’s 3rd Sunday, I was taken aback by the nearly 200 people that had gathered in the backyard to receive a hot meal.
I was touched by the experience and returned again the following 3rd Sunday. This is when I met Dwight and Leia Smith who reside in the home and run it on a daily basis. They have made this work their ministry for the past 20 years and they shared the reality that their guests (as they always refer to them) each have a story. The real work on Sunday was less about preparing food and more about engaging with people. Leia explained to me that my interaction could be the most significant communication the guests have all week.
I shared my experience with my small group bible study comprised of Northwestern Mutual financial advisors and the following 3rd Sunday, they joined me to have a firsthand look at what the mission was all about. We learned they needed a group for the 5th Sunday of each month and decided we could take that on. We had a few challenges in the beginning. We came close to burning down the kitchen on one of our first Sunday’s cooking 40 lbs of hamburger meat for enchiladas, but now, after a decade, we have the routine down!
On Sunday morning, volunteers arrive at 8:30 to unload all the food and set up the rooms for meal preparation. There is a lot of chopping, mixing, and egg cracking (a favorite of the kids); ideally we have between 25 – 35 volunteers. On the Sundays where we unexpectedly have more people that show up to serve, we try to find additional projects. We then prepare a brunch and also a few other dishes they can heat up and use for other meals later in the week.
Keep in mind there are about a 1000 meals served annually at the Isaiah House and the best part of the morning is serving each guests individually, bringing a plate to each of them. Once they are served, the volunteers make their brunch plate and join the guests eating outside.
Over the past 12 years of serving at Isaiah House, our kids have had the opportunity to share in the experiences. Not only did we get to enjoy seeing each other’s kids grow up, but we have had the continual reminder of how truly blessed we are and helping others is part of what we are called to do. The guests that come for meals are really no different than us, but circumstances have created conditions that allow us to help. These experiences have also shed a light on the complex issues surrounding homelessness and the huge need for advocacy around this social issue.
I would like to thank our original "Power Group" team of Patrick, Todd, Spencer, Mike, and Brett who, along with their families and friends, continue to support this ministry which has been a blessing to all our lives. I encourage you to “connect with your community” and find something you can do with others to help end homelessness.
Connect with your community by looking for opportunities to get involved. Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are open workdays at Isaiah House and they are always grateful for your help. Learn more here how you can help end homelessness today!
HomeAid has been ending homelessness with the OC Catholic Workers at Isaiah House since 2004, with the renovation of an existing home that sleeps up to 120 homeless each night. Isaiah House is also a recipient of HomeAid’s Community Outreach activities.