Fullerton’s First Lutheran Church has been serving hot dinners to the homeless every Tuesday night since 1990 and selling discounted groceries to low-income families every Wednesday morning since 2002.
For years, Fullerton’s First Lutheran Church has been helping people, uplifting spirits and giving back to the community, one meal at a time.
Janet Shellenberger, who is the volunteer in charge of organizing the weekly events said that First Lutheran provides families with essentials such as canned goods, frozen meats, dairy products, cereal, pasta, bread and produce. They make sure that everyone who goes gets a fair amount to at least last them through the week.
“You simply do what’s in front of you, which is to share food with people who are needing it,” former Pastor Ron Baesler said when asked how people could give back to the community.
Baesler has been volunteering at First Lutheran since he retired about a year and a half ago. When he’s not volunteering there, he is helping out at, His House Homeless Intervention Shelter in Placentia, California.
For Baesler, helping the homeless and low-income families is a reminder of how others may not be as financially stable. “You come here and you realize that there are people […] who are struggling to make it,” Baesler said.
Many of the people who go to First Lutheran to get groceries are unemployed, homeless, or come from low-income families.
As for the volunteers, many of them are people who have struggled themselves and want to give back to others who may be going through similar hardships.
Mark Lepper, a veteran who volunteers at First Lutheran and Wilshire Avenue Community Church, has had a tough past few years, having struggled with drug abuse, going to jail, losing his job and cancer.
For Lepper, going to First Lutheran has been a way to “keep [his] head above water,” as he put it, and it has been the means by which he can give back and help others who are going through tough times.
Donna Hubacek, a local resident has been going to First Lutheran off and on for about 8 years. For her, First Lutheran was not just a place where she could get food, but also a place where she found other people who helped her in times of need.
A person who she met at First Lutheran was Karin Hust, who started Hope Lifted, a local non-profit that helps homeless individuals find jobs and places to live.
“Hope Lifted got me and my boyfriend out of my car,” said Hubacek. “I got a job and two days before Christmas, three years ago, they found me a place to stay.”
“I kind of started looking around and saying, ‘you know we’re solving a small problem here, we’re feeding people but the next day they have the same problem,’” said Hust. In order to solve this issue she found ways to offer people a chance to get back on their feet by finding them a source of income and a place to live.
What started off as a kind gesture to help people out in any way possible, has now turned into a nonprofit that has given a home to 50 people, 48 of which are still in the housing they have been provided.
“I started [Hope Lifted] through First Lutheran, they were like the conduit for that,” said Hurst, who after 10 years of volunteering, still goes to First Lutheran, to try and help people out.
Fullerton resident Curtis Gamble along with Hust has helped many other homeless people. He prints and hands out flyers that have a list of places where homeless people can go and get food, shelter, clothing and take showers.
Gamble also directs people he meets to places like First Lutheran and other places that have soup kitchens.
One person he helped was Rachele Schneider, a current Fullerton College student studying to get her Associates in Automotive Technology. Schneider, who was homeless at 19, met Gamble who was able to her get resources that have since gotten her get a job, a car and a place to live.
“I still come here to remind myself where I came from,” said Schneider, “and I know to never forget.”
The people who visit First Lutheran to get meals have become a community of sorts. They help one another out, even if it’s with a simple gesture such as sharing meals or giving clothes to someone in need.
“I love this place and I love these people, and I love churches that give food to the homeless,” said Hurst, “because it draws them into a place where hopefully there is more help than just food.”
Overall, First Lutheran does more than just give people food for a day or for a week, it helps them get back on their feet, uplifts their spirits and gives them the opportunity to have a positive a change in their lives.
For more information on how you can help, contact Fullerton First Lutheran Church at (714) 871-7820.
For more information on how you could help Hope Lifted you can visit their website, hopeliftedjourney.com or their Hope Lifted Facebook page.