It’s Friday afternoon and Linda Lampe is running later than usual preparing more than 100 meals to be distributed throughout San Benito County.
This was right after coming back from delivering food boxes to 165 families in San Juan Bautista, followed by putting together food packages that LULAC volunteers picked up for an additional 45 families in the agriculture industry.
“A very eventful day,” she said.
Lampe is the director for the Hollister Community Outreach organization, which provides meals, groceries, hot showers and other services to people who are underserved in San Benito County. She said their mission statement has always been to serve the underserved in the community because hunger can take on any form.
The 73-year old Tennessee native said there was no way of imagining how big the operation was going to get.
“Here’s this old lady cooking meals in her kitchen, going out to the homeless,” she said. “The more I did it the more I knew what a huge need it was.”
But the non-profit organization is now in trouble of closing its doors to all services due to the lack of financial support. Lampe and her husband, Pat, primarily fund the outreach program that began operating in 2015.
Since then, they’ve helped nearly 200 homeless people get enrolled into rehabilitation programs.
“We’re looking to fix the problem permanently,” Linda said. “That’s why I don’t believe in homelessness. I do not want to be called the homeless center, I am a launchpad.”
The Lampes also use proceeds from their shop, Worth Saving Thrift Store, along with donations from grocery stores, churches and private donors.
However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic the thrift store, which is located at 101 Fifth St., is closed. The main facility located at 910 Monterey St. is also currently closed.
Lampe said both landlords have been patient with them but it’s been nearly three months since they’ve paid any rent and other expenses.
HCO is estimating it will need $21,446 to pay for expenses to maintain services through June. The organization is past due for two months worth of expenses ranging from April to May.
The cost of rent per month is $2,800 for Hollister Community Outreach and $2,200 per month for the thrift shop. Other expenses include three months worth of PG&E ($672), AT&T phone/internet ($558) and the box truck commercial registration and insurance at $2,200.
Gary Cameron, San Benito County Community Action Board member for District 2, said the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency received $250,000 for the Homeless Opportunities Meals and Empowerment Resource Center, or homeless shelter, at its April 20 meeting.
The shelter has room for 50 people and they will receive three meals a day. They’ll also have access to shower and laundry facilities, a computer lab and other support services.
“And here you’ve got the Lampes trying to run this little operation on their own, and they get basically no support from much of anybody,” he said.
Cameron said they occasionally get a grant from a church or the community foundation. He said CAB held a special Zoom meeting to authorize about $9,500 to pay for delivery of the meals for April and May.
Cameron, who’s a retired CHP officer, is a board member for HCO and he mentioned that being on both sides of the table has helped him present the problem to CAB. He’s also one of several volunteers who doesn’t get paid for helping coordinate where the food flows.
“As a matter of fact, it costs me money to be associated with them,” he said. “That’s really the reward.”
Martha’s Kitchen, a non-profit organization based out of San Jose, has been providing approximately 910 frozen food entrees for the homeless community in San Benito County. The individual meals include an entree, fruit, snacks, bottled water and bread.
HCO also delivers meals to homeless people living in their cars, shut-ins and staying in motel rooms using vouchers provided by San Benito County.
The Lampes have helped those who are underserved with housing assistance, getting social security and disability benefits, provide internet access and an address for work employment applications.
Linda Lampe said that they had to take out a $50,000 second mortgage on their home to pay the bills because they were about to go under.
“I know that somehow, some way that what we’re doing has value,” she said. “Whatever you’re called to do if you’re not willing to step up yourself, how can you ask other people to invest?”
Cameron said without HCO around to help underserved people, there could be more residents begging or even potentially resorting to crime. He said he believes the Lampes can get back to operating at full speed if they get some short-term assistance, which includes getting all the cleaning materials to get the thrift shop back open.
“I don’t think they’re asking for long-term help,” Cameron said. “I think they’ll be able to reopen that if they can get over the hurdle right now.”
Lampe said she’s aware she’s not the lone solution and she can’t help everybody in need. But she said she can’t imagine shutting the doors for good on people who still need a helping hand.
“I cannot entertain those thoughts and if that’s being impractical or whatever, it’s worked so far,” she said.