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Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation opens kitchen for Lodi’s less fortunate

Charitable group provides residents with hot meals, much-needed supplies

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Posted: Saturday, December 14, 2013 12:00 am

Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation has opened a different kind of daytime shelter to provide more individual service to the community’s less fortunate.

The foundation held the grand opening of its new 4,450-square-foot location at 425 N. Sacramento St. on Friday. Volunteers, clients and members of the community trickled through the kitchen’s doors for five hours to congratulate founder Cheryl Francis.

This will be the fourth program of its kind in Lodi, and is just steps away from the Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor shelter.

Cheryl Francis said the nonprofit, which she founded in 2010, is different from other organizations such as Lodi House, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities, which runs St. Anne’s Place.

“We cater 100 percent to an individual’s needs,” she said. “We can provide eyeglasses, hygienic supplies, sleeping bags, as well as hot meals.”

Francis said organizations like the Salvation Army try to help those in need as best they can, but “red tape” and processing requests through the proper channels can hinder a person’s ability to receive aid.

That’s why Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation is run completely by volunteers. All of the supplies the foundation provides to those in need are in-kind donations. So when someone requests something like a jacket, it can be in their hands without a waiting period, Francis said.

She added the foundation serves as many as 1,000 people a week for a variety of needs, including food, clothing and supplies.

She said the food isn’t frozen, pre-made or reheated before being served.

Just last week, the kitchen served chicken corn chowder with grilled brioche sandwiches, all handmade by volunteers.

The foundation’s kitchen will be open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. most days, although an exact schedule has yet to be determined, Francis said. However, because the weather has been so cold lately, reaching as low as the mid-20s last weekend, Francis has kept the kitchen open every day.

She said there are as many as 30 volunteers working for the foundation, depending on the time of year.

The dining area can seat a maximum of 40 people, but the atmosphere is more of a cafe than a food shelter, she said. People can come in when they need to, rather than lining up at a certain time to eat.

The foundation had been operating out of various churches and community centers since its creation in 2010. Francis said the North Sacramento Street location was chosen for its proximity to the Salvation Army.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic along the street between here and the Salvation Army,” she said. “We serve the same people they do, but at different times and for many different purposes.”

San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel said the foundation put a great deal of hard work into making the kitchen a reality.

“This is about people in the community stepping up and helping those who are less fortunate,” he said. “I think the city, as well as the entire community, will appreciate their efforts.”

Lodi resident Jackie Camacho, 74, has been volunteering with Grace and Mercy for a little more than a year, doing what she calls “grunt work.” The work involves cleaning refrigerators at the foundation’s warehouse, making sure foods are fresh, and packing and unpacking donations like clothes and shoes.

Camacho said it is wonderful to finally see this kitchen open after three years of work.

“(Francis) was determined to make this work,” she said. “She never backed off, and all the while, with all the food coming in, she never turned anybody away. Nobody walked away empty-handed.”

She said she met Francis through a mutual acquaintance, who saw Camacho helping a woman older than herself at a doctor’s office. That acquaintance suggested Camacho meet Francis at Gravity Church, located at 715 S. Central Ave. The two met, and they’ve worked together ever since.

Jean Goforth, 73, is another Lodi resident who met Francis through Gravity Church. Goforth also helps make sure food is fresh at the warehouse, and has volunteered time setting up foundation events like a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at the kitchen, which served about 160 people.

She said the kitchen was a dream come true for Francis.

“I’ve just been impressed with the quality of food she provides here,” Goforth said. “She’s a wonderful cook, and she makes things that are healthy and hearty.”

Francis said the foundation’s clients, which include men, women and children, are referred to the foundation by churches, local hospitals and other charitable organizations.

“We just look forward to working with all the agencies in the area that are a part of the ‘helping’ industry,” she said.

Before cutting the ceremonial ribbon at 6 p.m. Friday night, Francis said the kitchen could not have opened without the “Grace of God,” and thanked him as the scissor blades did their work.

For more information about Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation, visit www.gracenmercylodi.com, or email info@gracenmercylodi.com. You can also call 209-224-5273 or 209-625-8083. To make cash or food donations, call 925-864-0183, or mail to P.O. Box 2236, Lodi, CA, 95241.

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