‘Just Keep Loving Jesus Christ’

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Bethlehem Center rallies community to help 79 year old man care for 7 grandchildren

By Andrea Camarena

Vox Populi

In November, Bethlehem Center Executive Director Benny Rodriguez began sharing the story of one local man, Tom and his struggles to care for his 7 grandchildren.

A story that began with sorrow and hunger, in two months, has quickly turned to one of mercy and hope.

Tom is a 79-year old Visalia man who has found himself raising seven of his grandchildren, ranging in age from 3 to 14. The children’s parents are in prison. At mass in November Rodriguez talked to parishioners at all four of the Catholic Church of Visalia’s sites about the monthly phone call he receives from Tom.

“Tom is a 79 year old grandfather on a limited income. He calls the center every month. In his sad and humble voice, he thanks us for the food box that he just received,” Rodriguez explained. “Not only does the Bethlehem Center provide Tom with extra food boxes every month but also with clothing for the children.”

Our parishioners responded swiftly to Tom’s story, donating thousands of dollars to the Bethlehem Center that same day, just outside the church’s doors. But the generosity did not stop that day.

“Be merciful to me, O god, be merciful to me,
For in you my soul takes refuge;
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample upon me.

God will send forth his mercy and his faithfulness!”

-Psalm 57:1-3

As we set out to begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy, our Christian community stepped forward to serve the Lord just as the Bethlehem Center does.

“Our Mission at the Bethlehem Center is to serve the Lord by serving the poor of our community,” Rodriguez said.

In December, an anonymous donor from Visalia First Assembly of God heard Tom’s story and gifted Tom with a late 2000s model Chevy Suburban to help Tom safely transport his grandchildren to school. When the keys were handed over in the parking lot of the Bethlehem Center, Tom’s tearful gratitude was met with a simple response. “Just keep loving Jesus Christ, Tom.”

The next week, two representatives from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Commercial Lending also met Tom in the Bethlehem Center parking lot. The two filled Tom’s new suburban with overflowing grocery bags and gift cards to help Tom and his family celebrate the Holiday Season.

Tom’s story is one of hundreds that pass through the Bethlehem Center every day. Through hot food, clothing, groceries, spiritual and rehabilitation services, the Center aims to fill every person that passes through its door with dignity and hope.

This year, we are not only called to seek mercy for ourselves, but to show others the mercy of God’s love through our actions – our living Gospel. The Bethlehem Center needs volunteers daily to prepare and serve meals, organize and distribute donations and even to do clerical work.

We hope you will consider taking time to volunteer in the coming months. To see how you can serve, call the Bethlehem Center at 559-734-1572.

The Bethlehem Center is able to serve 9,000 hot meals per month through the support of its donors. Every dollar helps feed and clothe needy. Click here to easily make an one-time donation or set up a giving plan online.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” -Lk 6:36

The “Giving Person” most of the times doesn’t see the affect they have on the needy as a result of their donations, especially the faces of the children that receive a hot meal. Then there is the little four year boy that returns to the serving counter and reaches above his head to place his plate on the counter and takes a step back and asks for seconds as he folds his arms. Or the former homeless woman that returns to thank us for having provided food and clothing during those challenging times in her life and before she leaves she donates 8 turkeys for our Thanksgiving Dinner.

“The drought has brought an increase in needy families seeking assistance with food and clothing for the family. It is sad to see a family that is now homeless because there is no work to support the family. You wonder what is going through the fathers mind standing in line to ask for a box of food to feed his family while his 4 children and wife stand outside under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day. As you look out the window of the office you see two small children playing in the dirt under the tree, a small boy about 10 years old staring off into the distance, the little girl about 8 years old holding on to the a shopping cart, one of 4 which holds all of their belongings. The mother stands humbly awaiting almost with a look of shame, patiently awaiting for nourishment for her children.”

“This is an ever increasing scene that appears at the Bethlehem Center along with an increase in homeless individuals, especially now that another organization that normally feeds the homeless has ceased providing Lunches. Because of the growth of the new poor it now requires an increase in food and operational cost for the Bethlehem Center to continue its mission of providing for the needy of our community. As in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew: 25 – “Whatever you do for the least of our brother… that you do unto me’.”

“ Won’t you extend a helping hand by donating to the Bethlehem Center and as in the words of Mother Teresa, “If you can’t help feed a hundred people, can you help feed just one.”