Years ago there was an area of Hughson that was called "Lost City" - a housing development recognizable only by its dilapidated condition. In one of the two bedroom apartments lived a family with eight children and each day they would make their way to the United Samaritans Foundation food truck for lunch where they would see the friendly face of Maris Sturtevant.
For years Sturtevant drove the Hughson route food truck and watched daily for the family of eight children with which she had become familiar, like many of the residents on her route. Little did she know that she would one day meet one of the daughters of this family but this time in a vastly different capacity.
"The Foundation had moved to our current location in Turlock and a girl volunteered here and came up to me and asked if I recognized her," recalled Sturtevant, now the chief operating manager of USF. "She told me that she was one of the kids of the family of eight children that lived in Lost City and came to the truck in Hughson. She was graduating at CSUS and she wanted to volunteer here to return the help that she had received."
Sturtevant's story, while touching, is not unique as employees and volunteers get to witness the small successes and daily accomplishments that many of their clients celebrate each day, such as obtaining housing or finding a job. For those currently displaced the Foundation offers a place to shower, wash their clothes and eat a hot meal along with mail and telephone services. However, contrary to common misperception, the Foundation does not solely serve the homeless as 82 percent of United Samaritans' clients are housed but face financial struggles and need a helping hand whether that is a warm coat in the winter or food on the table.
"We have many services such as providing parents a birthday cake for their child. Even just seeing the face of a child light up when they receive new shoes for school, it's the little things that make our work worth it," said Barbara Bawanan, director of USF.
USF functions like a well-oiled machine operating four mobile food trucks from the Turlock, Hughson, and Modesto facilities and servicing residents in nine Stanislaus communities five days a week. There is also a clothes closet and food box program along with the daily food trucks. Feeding and clothing more than 6,500 people in the last year, the Foundation's operation would not be possible without the donations of the community and a dedicated staff, several of which have invested in the Foundation for years.
Established as a nonprofit with a Board of Directors in 1994, the food truck portion of USF was inspired by a Daily Bread Ministry program that the Sacred Heart Catholic Church had been operating for three years prior. As the nonprofit acquired larger facilities and began to serve a larger population in need, all hands were on deck to ensure that no one in the community went without.
"The Board at that time was really hands on. They would be making sandwiches in the kitchen and handing out lunch on the trucks," said Bawanan.
Unfortunately, as the Foundation has expanded so has the need in the community possibly due to the growth of the town, the economic climate, and the disbandment of the nuclear family in recent years which has left many individuals without close ones on which to lean. However, there has also been exponential growth in the number of volunteers that have sought out the Foundation, something Bawanan "can only attribute it to the compassion of the community."
As the Foundation prepares to celebrate 20 years of serving the community in September, it will continue to raise funds to not only support their services but to support the people who call the United Samaritans Foundation the closest thing to home.
"They really are like family," said Victoria Mayfield, a client of the past 10 years.