It started with a single case of water.
In 2008, Brendon O’Shea, a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda, was asked by a friend if he would like to join him on a trip up to Skid Row in Los Angeles to deliver a case of water to the homeless inhabitants.
Situated just east of downtown, the Skid Row enclave contains one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S.
O’Shea and his friend drove to Skid Row and delivered the water.
MONSIGNOR STEPHEN DOKTORCZYK, PASTOR OF ST. MARTIN DE PORRES CATHOLIC CHURCH IN YORBA LINDA, IS PICTURED WITH MEMBERS OF THE PARISH’S SKID ROW MINISTRY. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENDAN O’SHEA
The outreach continued.
Members of a 12-step group O’Shea attended at St. Martin de Porres joined in and began making regular trips to Skid Row to donate water.
Word spread quickly, and as more volunteers joined, the Skid Row outreach group began taking in donations of other items to be distributed along with the water.
O’Shea recalls a donation of 2,000 T-shirts from a friend who owned a silk-screening business.
Another volunteer donated tarps which were cut up and turned into mini tents.
After about two years, the church administration met with O’Shea and suggested making the Skid Row outreach an official church ministry, which would mean more funding and resources.
Today, the Skid Row Ministry at St. Martin de Porres is well organized, runs smoothly and efficiently and gives parishioners the opportunity to witness the hardships and struggles of life on the streets, O’Shea said.
ST. MARTIN DE PORRES’S SKID ROW MINISTRY VISITS SKID ROW EVERY SIX WEEKS TO DISTRIBUTE FOOD, CLOTHES AND HYGIENE KITS. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENDAN O’SHEA
The ministry is a two-day operation, making trips to Skid Row about every six weeks.
On one Saturday in October, between 50 and 100 volunteers met at the parish hall and organized items that would then be delivered to Skid Row on Sunday.
One group folded clothes and arranged shirts, jackets and other clothing items by type and size.
Volunteers made sandwiches and prepared hygiene kits.
ST. MARTIN DE PORRES’ SKID ROW MINISTRY MEMBERS DISTRIBUTE DONATED ITEMS TO THOSE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS IN LOS ANGELES. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENDAN O’SHEA
“We’re making a little bit of a difference,” said O’Shea, as items were being boxed and ready to be delivered the next morning. “What you see here will be enough for about 240 people.”
The next day, a new group of volunteers then met at the church at 7 a.m., loaded boxes into their vehicles and caravanned up to Skid Row to distribute the items.
Volunteers include youth groups, members of other outreach organizations, parishioners and community
“There is a good spirit among the adults and youth who participate,” said Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, the pastor at St. Martin de Porres. “I hope to be able to be part of one of their future visits to Skid Row.”
Volunteers included Ernie Garcia and his wife Suzanne Hsu, who only recently started attending Mass at St. Martin de Porres.
The couple wanted to get involved in service at the church right away, Garcia said.
“We want to build a strong foundation and I think helping others is a good way to do this,” Garcia said.
“Just making sandwiches is a show of love and support for people who don’t see it on a daily basis. So, to be able to give some food and maybe have a brief conversation which somebody will show them God’s love.”
The Skid Row Ministry gets its donations from a variety of sources that include the Knights of Columbus, Lady’s Christian League, local foodbanks, community members and the church’s own outreach center, according to O’Shea.
As a recovering alcoholic with 34 years of sobriety, O’Shea said service to others has become a key tenet of his program of recovery and overseeing the Skid Row Ministry is a big part of his service.
“I did a lot of crazy things in my drinking,” O’Shea said. “My 12-step group has taught me to give back.”
Longtime volunteer Jim Sonsalla, who oversees the Skid Row Ministry along with O’Shea, said he is most impacted by the homeless children they encounter on every visit.
“Homeless children are my biggest concern because it is not their fault,” Sonsalla said.
But there is also a huge sense of gratitude, he said.
“There are the same number of smiles on our side of the box as there are on their side because they can’t believe how nice it is when they are given things,” Sonsalla said.
For more information about the Skid Row Ministry at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, go to smdpyl.org.