South Pas Churches Show Food Outreach

Volunteers Robin da Silva (from left), Fil Romero and Charley Cerutti smile during the farmers market food distribution at the Giving Bank at Holy Family Catholic Church’s St. Joseph Center on Monday, Aug 5. Photos by Skye Hannah

Sharing kindness, support and nourishment to those in need within the community is a paramount spiritual outreach of both Holy Family Catholic Church and St. James’ Episcopal Church. Both South Pasadena churches have long been engaged in food-distribution programs, serving various people encountering food insecurity in South Pasadena and beyond.

Both churches have recently reported declines in the number of people served since the federal administration’s ICE raids and other measures taken against those using public assistance, as evidence of some forms of public assistance can count against applications for a Green Card and permanent citizenship. Despite the challenges, staff and volunteers from both continue to move forward in forging connections with those who come in need of a friendly chat and bag of food.

At Holy Family, volunteers gather every Monday across the street from the church at the St. Joseph Center (1524 Fremont Ave.) to share a farmers market where registered clients from South Pasadena, Alhambra and El Sereno zip codes can select fresh produce, meats and other staples. Known as the Giving Bank, volunteers distribute and bag food for clients from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

Holy Family’s Director of Community Services, Marlene Moore, said the church serves about 150 people a week and the free food helps those in need stretch their dollars when they’re under financial stress.

“We serve the working poor, those that are struggling with, ‘Do I buy food or do I buy medicine? Do I buy food or do I pay the rent?’ ” said Moore.

Although food distribution doesn’t start until 9 a.m. and everyone gets the same amount, Moore said many clients will start to line up at 5 a.m. just so they can socialize and interact with the volunteers.

“The interaction is a really big component for our clients,” said Moore. “They say, ‘Well, these are my friends,’ so this is fellowship.”

Volunteer Kathryn Ayres organizes loaves of bread during food distribution at Holy Family Catholic Church’s Giving Bank.

Volunteer Robin da Silva moved to South Pasadena around three years ago and joined the church shortly after because she wanted to find a way to contribute and meet more people in the community. Work permitting, she is there every week in an apron, greeting clients and helping them make food selections.

“It’s been great because there are a lot of areas where you can figure out where you have the better fit for yourself and you can give back,” said da Silva. “It showed me that there’s a lot of people in need.”

Charley Cerutti also moved to the area around the same time and will soon be celebrating three years of volunteering with the Giving Bank. He joined because he said it wasn’t hard to see there was a need with so many homeless people and those without resources.

“Over time I’ve gotten to know the people that come through the line and I know the people who volunteer,” said Cerutti. “They’re good people and everybody’s enjoyable to be with.”

Holy Family also provides sack lunches, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, for those who live on the streets. It also provides showers on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are always welcome to join and the church accepts both monetary and food donations for the Giving Bank. For more information, contact their office at (626) 403-6140 or visit

High protein foods are currently in demand including canned tuna, peanut butter, beef jerky and granola bars. Donated food may be delivered to the St. Joseph Center Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or left in bins under the counter at each church entrance.

At St. James Episcopal Church, located at 1325 Monterey Road, everyone regardless of city or area code is welcome to collect bags of food on Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Church member Jan Arenz and her husband started the Food Locker in the 1980s with a few cans of food and helped build the program up from there.

Volunteer Fil Romero sorts out donated fresh food into containers at the Holy Family Catholic Church’s Giving Bank.

Lisa Markus, director of the Food Locker, said the program has simple beginnings but has evolved to serve many in need, often providing a stop gap to those who can’t verify their zip code. In 2018, it distributed more than 440 food bags and more than 15,000 pounds of food, feeding an average of 37 families per week.

“The church is located pretty centrally so you have people who come in who are hungry and they just wanted to be able to meet that immediate need,” said Markus. “It has just sort of evolved from there.”

Volunteers coordinate weekly to pick up donations of fresh food from Pavilions, Vons, Holy Family Church, the South Pasadena farmers market and the new South Pasadena bakery Berry Opera Café, among others.

“We’re come all, take all, people need ministry and support,” said Markus. “We always have one of our associate pastors around. They can come in and take reflective time in the church and get what they need.”

St. James is currently in need of canned tuna, canned chicken and rice. Anyone who would like to volunteer can email Markus at or come by the church on Friday before or during the distribution time.

“There’s always something going on that we need help with,” said Markus.