JUST SAYIN’-Namaste! I bow to the divine in you. That’s the goal of the MEND organization—to treat every person—no matter the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves—with the dignity every person deserves.
The organization is situated in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and is incomparable in its services to the community. It assists those who find themselves at or below the established poverty level. The clients come from nine different cities in the area--essentially City Council Districts 6 and 7: Pacoima, Sylmar, the City of San Fernando, Mission Hills, Panorama City, Sun Valley, Arleta, and Lakeview Terrace (non-residents of those areas are given referrals to the appropriate places but are assisted during that initial visit).
Over the years, I have donated various kinds of clothing and a variety of other paraphernalia, but little did I know during all that time just how much more MEND provides beyond dispensing food and clothing to the needy.
Back in 1971, a small group of thoughtful people decided to set up shop in their respective garages, offering free food, clothing, and furniture to needy individuals and families. What they started soon became “the largest poverty-relief agency in the Valley.”
On the day I visited MEND for an interview, the Roses, one of the founding couples, had just stopped in. How wonderful that after all these years, they are just as devoted to pressing needs as they were more than four decades ago!
In the 1980s nuns from a nearby order joined the volunteer efforts and by 1976 MEND had become a non-profit and would soon move into a storefront building and eventually into the two locations that we see today—the older on Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima and the newer, state-of-the-art site on San Fernando Road, also in Pacoima.
Last week, a variety of administrators gave generously of their time to take me through both locations and answer all the many questions I had for them. I am so grateful to them for their magnanimous gestures.
As I was taken through the San Fernando building, I could not help but recognize how fortunate MEND has been as it became a beneficiary of numerous partnerships and the generosity of such people and organizations as the Keck and Annenberg foundations and from our own State Senator (soon to be Secretary of State) Alex Padilla, and outgoing LA County Supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky.
I was further pleased to see the names of Theresa and Blase Bonpane on donor floor tiles. They founded the Office of the Americas (Blase is a former priest who left the Catholic ministry in order to minister to the needs of those less fortunate, particularly in the Latin American countries). Mr. Bonpane, whom I had the opportunity to interview some years ago, is devoted to the idea of liberation theology—the concept that people should not have to wait until after death to get their rewards but have the right to live well now, while they are alive: do good, do right, receive earthly blessings.
Other big donors are corporations like Albertsons, Vons, Whole Foods, the LA Regional Food Bank, Trader Joe’s, Costco, even left-over foods from the LAUSD. In recent years, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act allows the use of quality, fresh foods that are not otherwise used or sold.
As a result of the generosity of so many, the pre-qualified (over four days of each week) are offered food boxes (a balanced 3-day supply amounting to about 80 pounds of food, depending on how many are being served for any one family). The box includes fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy grains, dairy, canned goods, and frozen meat. Depending on the individual circumstances of recipients, they can also select from well-maintained, pre-owned clothing. The homeless can shower once a week and are provided with toiletries, soap, and towels.
There are many other special programs as well: the Christmas project which dispenses toys and clothing and a special helicopter-flown in Santa. There is Project Glamor every April to provide high school teenaged girls with a lovely prom dress and workshops teaching self-esteem and appropriate dress practices. Twice a year a baby shower program is offered to provide needed supplies, like proper baby seats and training in how to use them.
In addition, there are independent parenting workshops which offer instruction on care of new babies and general parenting skills; these classes also teach parents how to get their children signed up for Magnet and Charter schools. Halloween costumes for young and old are given out in the fall along with a jacket to keep recipients warm as they go about their trick-or-treating.
Other workshops and classes include the following:
● ESL (English as a Second Language) for adults
● Computer classes for adults and keyboarding for youthful participants; introduction to Excel, Word, and Office
● On-the-job training through internships in a variety of disciplines: retail, warehouse, data entry, dental and medical assistance, food preparation, etc.
● Computer labs demonstrate how to write a good résumé, how to dress for success, and what the appropriate interview techniques are (through mock interviews—something that San Fernando High School also does)
● Sewing classes
Of particular interest to me is the breadth of the free healthcare programs provided to the clients. The idea is that early, preventive attention is far preferable to putting care off until the situation becomes dire and more costly. There is a holistic approach to patient care at MEND. Among the offerings are the following:
● The Dental Program includes X-rays for diagnosis, cleaning, deep cleaning, fillings, crowns, extractions (what cannot be done on the premises is referred elsewhere). There are approximately 9 dentists, 9 hygienists, 12 dental assistants, and any number of other personnel who volunteer for this program.
● The goal of the Medical Program is to provide primary care. Yearly check-ups are encouraged. The program works in collaboration with LA County services and Providence Holy Cross Hospital. The services include diagnostics, mammograms, pap smears, podiatry, gastroenterology, orthopedics, and much more. Again, what cannot be performed on the premises is referred to other accepting institutions—each of which have been determined for what kind of services they can offer.
Kaiser supports health education and materials distribution for patients. An emphasis is on the pre-diabetic and the diabetic clients (mostly Type II) who make up about 47% of the intake patients. Through a grant, Kaiser provides diabetic medications (both pill and injection).
It has become common knowledge within the medical community that diabetes is most prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. There are a number of reasons for this. Though genetics sometimes plays a role in this problem, what seems to be a larger problem is what is called the “built environment.” In other words, there are contributing factors that are built into such communities:
Often these people live in food deserts where quality, healthy foods are not available or too costly. A good exercise regimen is difficult to follow because the neighborhoods are often too crime-ridden, with drug exchanges, poor lighting for safety, and limited police monitoring, all of which prompt residents to go straight from car or bus to or from home—too fearful to be out any other time, let alone take a walk or play a game of pick-up basketball.
MEND does offer weight-management classes as an option for people who find themselves in such predicaments.
● There is a fine optometry service which includes state-of-the-art diagnostics. such as glaucoma detection. Frames for men, women, and children are offered, and outside providers fill the prescriptions. Screening for cancer and heart problems are part of the services. Those with mental health conditions are referred to outside agencies, such as Friends of the Family.
MEND is almost like one-stop shopping, but for as many services as it currently offers, it is continuously looking to expand. This is the kind of program that the rest of the City ought to emulate, let alone duplicate by the County and the Nation.
For more information, you may want to contact the following administrators. I am grateful for all the time they gave me to learn more about their wonderful programs:
● Luke Ippoliti, Food Bank Assistant Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
● Nene Ogbechie, Communications Volunteer Team Manager: email@example.com
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and=Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch. This piece is part of an ongoing CityWatch series … Who Are The Real Angelinos … exploring the myriad peoples and cultures that define Los Angeles.)
Vol 12 Issue 101
Pub: Dec 16, 2014