As the clock strikes half past eight and the aroma of fresh breakfast drifts through the air, the Green Valley Common Ground is officially open for anyone to come in and enjoy a hot meal. And for numerous years, that’s exactly how it’s been until recently with the COVID Pandemic.
Since the start of the 1930’s, the Green Valley Community Church has been a place of care, friendship, and faith. Being that it was founded during the Great Depression, the church provided the community with a much needed space for connection and support, oftentimes for the less fortunate. Although economic and social conditions have eased over the years, the church still has a valuable niche in the community, making homeless outreaches a priority in addition to its regular church activities. In 1996, a group of individuals founded The Saturday Cafe (now called Common Ground), a program at the church meant to help those in need. Initially, this meant a simple breakfast and a few free food items to-go, but evolved into many more programs, including a free grocery store, clothing closet, and daycare for children. Hands4Hope volunteers have been participating in this event since December 2008. People come to the event every Saturday, preparing food, cleaning dishes, serving coffee, distributing groceries, organizing the clothing closet, and playing games and doing crafts with children while their parents enjoy the meal and “shop” for much needed food and clothing items.
The main part of Common Ground is the breakfast. Starting at 8am sharp, the meal fills the church with life and the stomachs of roughly three hundred people in a span of three hours. During that time, Hands4Hope volunteers of all ages work together along with volunteers from the church and other agencies to ensure everyone is fed and getting enough groceries. The chefs, who are all volunteers, prepare a variety of food, mainly including traditional breakfast items like eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, and pastries. For the attendees, the event might just be a quick meal, but the volunteers often have a different story. Twelve-year volunteer Susan said, “I’ve been volunteering here for over a decade, coming in at 6:00 in the morning. As soon as I get here, I organize bread and produce and calculate the amount of people coming so everyone can get their fair share.”
After breakfast, people are welcome to visit the mini-grocery store towards the rear end of the church, where they can claim a grocery bag filled with miscellaneous food items once a month and shop for other perishable grocery items in the pantry. The selection of goods ranges widely, from fresh fruits and vegetables to coconut cakes and brownies, and takes two rooms to store. All of the food comes from the local food bank and local gardens. To make sure all the guests get what they came for, Hands4Hope volunteers help stock up the grocery store, pack staple bags filled with food, and help guests maneuver through the grocery store.
Common Ground also branched out to supplying clothes to the community, taking a few donations from anyone willing to give up some gently used clothes and turning it into a full-fledged clothing store. Racks and shelves line the floors and walls of the store, filled with free, quality clothes for anyone in need.
In 2019, Green Valley Community Church provided groceries to 7,312 families, served breakfast to 12,214 guests, and gave out 74,150 articles of clothing while 474 children attended Kids Oasis, showing that small institutions can make huge impacts on their community through hard work, dedication, and selflessness. And for long-time volunteer and church manager Bobbi, those three traits have been the key to her work at the church. “Volunteering at the church and getting up early on the weekends is hard at times,” she said, “but it keeps me going when I see the amount of help we’ve given out over the years and how we’ve improved so many lives.” Bobbi’s words ring true for many volunteers, both in Hands4Hope and other organizations, who take a chunk out of their Saturday to dedicate to Common Ground and the Kids Oasis.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the set-up at Green Valley Community Church. With fewer volunteers, breakfast burritos, coffee and prepackaged groceries are provided for those in need in a drive-thru format. The short interactions with each family/vehicle still brings smiles to faces, although underneath their masks. The warm coffee and breakfast and occasional dog treat for the 4 legged family member, along with a variety of groceries loaded into each trunk, are a heartwarming way of taking care of our community while staying safe and getting through these unprecedented times together.