By Emily Glory Peters
Nearly 6,000. That’s the number of volunteers who served food, distributed supplies and fostered hope among similar thousands served by local nonprofit Foothill Unity Center last year.
It’s an impressive number in light of April, which just happens to be National Volunteer Month—especially considering there’s still room (and need) for more. These hands are the many who help Foothill Unity Center in its mission to provide food, health services and case/crisis management to who the organization refers to as our community’s “hidden and working poor.”
“The majority of our clients are working families that struggle, especially with the rising costs of housing and basic need services. 79 percent are below the poverty level,” explains Raina Martinez, Development Director at Foothill Unity Center. “In 2018, we impacted 6,526 clients from the communities of Arcadia, Altadena, Azusa, Baldwin Park , Irwindale, Duarte, Monrovia, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena from over 3,000 families. Nearly 3 million pounds of food were distributed last year!”
The expansion is impressive. Now with two sites in Pasadena and Monrovia, the nonprofit originally began nearly 40 years ago out of a literal closet in a local church, overseen by founder Josephine Anderson. Little by little, Anderson pulled in key contacts across San Gabriel Valley to pool their resources—helping struggling families and individuals get fed, find healing and ultimately thrive.
“They wanted to create a place where people could come together to help those neighbors in need with love, dignity and respect,” says Martinez. “This is where word ‘unity’ originated.”
Forty years later—and with a small staff of just 21 people—Foothill Unity Center still relies extensively on collective support to keep their services sustainable.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” says Martinez, remarking on the importance of community collaboration, particularly with volunteers. Together, they fuel many of the center’s key programs, including providing homeless services, an annual Thanksgiving meal distribution, holiday boutique and even a back-to-school distribution for children in need of supplies.
“These volunteers give of their time, skill and creativity in all areas of the organization, from helping at weekly distributions to staffing health services events. We even have amazing talented community members like Lyd and Mo Photography who share their time and skill to capture special moments which we can share with the community and which help us in applying for grants,” Martinez continues. “We could not do this work without them.”
With 6,000 volunteers and 40,000 service hours banked last year, thousands more were spared from the prospect of chronic hunger or illness. But just as the “hidden poor” required intentional uncovering 40 years ago, the need for these services—and those willing to provide them—persists. Continued support from volunteers and others is helping meet that need.
“For many years Foothill Unity Center dreamed of having its own home— and through great diligence, hard work and community support in May 2018 Foothill Unity Center moved into its new home on Chestnut in Monrovia,” says Martinez. “We’re becoming the voice for the impoverished on a larger scale and helping change people’s lives every day, and encourage the community to help us continue that growth.”
Foothill Unity Center is located at 790 West Chestnut Avenue in Monrovia. To get involved as a volunteer, donor or advocate or to access their services, contact the Foothill Unity Center team at www.foothillunitycenter.org | (626) 358-3486 and follow along on Facebook and Instagram @foothillunitycenter.