Join us as we share the story of how Church of Our Saviour’s largest ministry came into fruition in this three-part series of the History of Our Saviour Center.
In the early 1980s, a group of parishioners from the Church of Our Saviour began a Bethel Series study group. A course on the study of the new and old testaments, the curriculum encouraged a greater movement by the Bethel students to serve Christ in the world. By taking action in the community, particularly in helping the less fortunate, their first foray into social service was a soup kitchen for seniors. This partnership with Immanuel Mission offered low-income seniors served meals once a week in the community of El Monte. It wasn’t long before the Bethel Series volunteers realized that the issue of hunger was much bigger than the once-weekly soup kitchen for the elderly they were operating.
To serve the greater El Monte community, a small warehouse was started as a food pantry in 1985. Bags of donated food began to be distributed. The food pantry warehouse was short-lived, however, as the lease was not renewed by the landlord and the food pantry had to close. A storefront at 9514 Rush Street in the city of South El Monte became the new makeshift headquarters for the food pantry, and the bags of donated food were distributed to families in need on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Juan Vega, an El Monte resident and food pantry recipient, volunteered to assist with food pickup and distribution.
As families stood in line to receive their kitchen staples, volunteers began reading stories to the small children who accompanied their parents. As they grew to learn more about the individual needs of incoming clients, parishioner volunteers continued to ask questions and an awareness of the lack of resources available to these community members became apparent. They included a lack of childcare, inadequate healthcare (if any), and a housing shortage. It was clear that the issues plaguing this community were much bigger than the food pantry. Gangs, drugs, inequality, racism, blight, and increased crime rates that encapsulated the city all but guaranteed the dim future of these families’ children.
One member of the Bethel Series study group was a parishioner by the name of Dorris Dann. Dorris had a 30-year career as a clothing buyer for department stores Robinson’s and The Broadway. When home between business trips, Dorris immersed herself in the work of the Church of Our Saviour under rector Father Nicholas Kouletsis: she became a member of the vestry and joined the endowment committee, involving herself more and more in the ministries of the Church. It wasn’t long before Dorris decided to retire from her successful career. One fateful Sunday, Father Nick, who was also Dorris’s spiritual director, gave a sermon on the need for Christians to take risks in the service of God. As a volunteer, Dorris knew the challenges faced by the food pantry and its clients and she decided to take a risk: with Fr. Nick’s blessing, she took the job as the executive director and began work the very next day.