In 2014, under the leadership of Rev. Shinya Goto, the Church started a new program to have more connections with the neighborhood and to make ourselves known. An opportunity arose when the Catholic Cathedral of San José found it necessary to close their food program. They proposed to Rev. Goto to take it over in order to continue to serve the downtown area in this way. Since I spoke Spanish, he contacted me and asked if we could do this. He said the beneficiaries would be Hispanics/Latinos who live around the church. My answer was yes, if donations would be available from various organizations. It turned out that donations came from the Roman Catholic Church, Santa Julia, Casa de Clara (a Catholic shelter), and from the Cristo Rey Roman Catholic School. In addition, Panera donated bread, and Wesley UMC Church made some monetary donations. Due to the large demand the program began to grow for our unsuspecting neighbors who were requesting help. With some difficulties we began to maintain our program called “Open Pantry”.
Reverend Shinya and I went to the Second Harvest Food Bank for help. They denied us more than once, because at that time they wanted us to send people to their nearest distribution centers. I told them that people would not attend because of their fears of sharing personal information. Also, they did not want to present themselves as a burden, because they believed it would negatively affect them further in the process of regulating their immigration status. They had felt more assurance when help was offered by the church.
Ray Castellon had been seeking help for sources to obtain groceries and decided to take the position of director of the program. He collected staples and produce, while other members of the church collected the bread from Panera. Casa de Clara volunteers shared food products. As the number of recipients grew, it became difficult to supply everyone with what was needed. Many times we had to split cabbages in half to serve more people.
At the beginning of the pandemic our work became even more difficult, since we could not continue meeting to bag the products. We had to stop for awhile, so we disconnected from our mission companions; however, we continued by purchasing and distributing gift cards from supermarkets, so that people could go to buy what they needed most. Then, since the situation was not easy for Latinos, little by little we began to deliver basic products such as rice, beans, and eggs. Since concern for our Latino/Hispanic members was urgent, Reverend Jeffrey Hall and his wife Jennifer came up with the idea to go out and do personal shopping at the markets for those who could not do it.
Finally Ray Castellon came up with a solution for the dilemma. He returned to the Second Harvest Food Bank to ask for help again. I did not think their help was possible, since we had already tried, as I indicated at the beginning of this message. However, after meeting all their requirements, information and paperwork, the answer was yes, due to the crisis faced by the community in this pandemic.
The products would come already packed in a box and by category. Each family would receive a box of fresh produce, one of dairy products, another of basic products such as rice, beans and oil, plus a bag with chicken, fish, or meat. We helped the food bank to access those in the community— Latino/Hispanic members and non-members of the church—who requested help.
The Church had started a ministry of the Latino/Hispanic neighborhood. Now the ministry is directed by those who at first benefited from it. The result is incredible growth of the Church due to friendship with the community. Many volunteers have left, since we started. I will not mention their names, so that I do not miss one and cause offense by omitting someone. April 21st was Ray Castellon’s last day with us.
Ray is looking for another church to help in other neighborhoods in the city as a volunteer and do what he likes—helping others and the homeless. Ray’s passage is a good example of discipleship and leadership: teaching others to do good and then putting them in charge before going out to another neighborhood or city and doing the same.
Thank you, brother Ray, for your leadership and support to the community. May God always bless you and give you many more years of life so that you continue to do good. Also, members of Cristo Vive in the colony of El Maguey in Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico wish you the best for your mission visits to El Maguey, where they will be waiting for you to greet you again.
The Hispanic/Latino congregation of San Jose First UMC and Cristo Vive A.C. wish you the best in your new journey, brother Ray Castellon.
Taking the leadership as coordinator of the Open Pantry program is the young Marcos Garza. Marcos is 24 years old, of Mexican-Guatemalan origin, fully bilingual in Spanish and English, and an electricity student at San Jose City College. With a good heart to continue this work, Marcos and an energetic group of Latino volunteers who are church members are taking the 7-year-old program very responsibly. It’s a lot of work to provide groceries for 100 families twice a month!
Welcome Marcos Garza to the team of The First United Methodist Church of San José, California!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez