Front Door Communities began as missions of the First Presbyterian Church of San Jose. This church has a long history of helping those in need, going back to working with refugees, since 1874, at what is now Cameron House in San Francisco. In more recent years a church member, Jeanne, had her own "Warmline": she brought people into the kitchen, served them soup, offered her telephone, prayer, food, money from her own pocket. Jeanne retired soon after our new office manager, Karleen, began work at the church in 2004. Karleen didn’t want people seeking assistance to be sent away empty-handed because we did not have the resources they needed, so she began giving out granola bars and bottled water. New members, Greg and Pat, and Pastor Sharon Hare pooled $120 to go to Costco to buy supplies for making lunch bags that contained non-perishable items. Initially 35 lunches would suffice about three months, but a greater need was evident. The church’s Mission Committee then organized Front Door Ministry, distributing lunch bags in the morning hours and inviting other community members and churches to volunteer and also help to supply lunches.
This ministry flourished as those receiving and those giving connect as people and share mutual compassion, care and their personal stories. Our ability to now give out 120 or more lunches per day, four mornings a week is possible only because of the support of many churches, organizations, and individuals. It opened its front door to the many outdoor friends who live in the St. James Park area of downtown San Jose and others who walk or bike to our doors. We know many of our regulars by name and some have even shared their stories with us. We consider people who come on a regular basis our friends and believe they feel the same.
On a Saturday night about 5 years ago, a homeless woman slept on the church’s front bench. Someone set her clothes on fire "because she smelled". When the Pastor arrived early Sunday morning the woman was sitting in ashes and burnt clothing. Several church members stepped in to help – getting clothes from home, preparing breakfast and taking her to the Emergency Room.
At that moment the church members fully recognized just how dangerous it was for homeless women to exist safely on the streets. Out of that knowledge Lifted Spirits (formerly Women’s Gathering Place) was formed. It began in October, 2014, as a drop-in center for women two afternoons a week. Volunteers came with hot lunches, and women could gather in the social hall or go to a quiet room to rest. A security guard was hired with our budget of $500 a month. A year later, with more volunteers and donations, the program was expanded to a third afternoon each week. Today 35 or more women are served three afternoons a week.
Front Door Communities was formed in 2017 because the programs had outgrown their existence within the church's Mission Committee, and a seamless transition has been made to our 501(c)3 organization. We partner not only with First Presbyterian Church, where we are still housed, but with the many churches, organizations and individuals who have long supported the Front Door Ministry and Lifted Spirits. We have invaluable partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank, for over 40,000 pounds of food a year, and regularly receive donations from Grocery Outlet and Pizza Hut. Gardner Health Center parks a van at the church on Wednesday afternoons to provide medical services for the women and, if time, other homeless individuals. Dignity on Wheels provides showers and laundry on Monday and Friday afternoons, serving both women and men. We receive and distribute donations of toiletries, socks, pet food, laundry soap and hygiene items. Clothing is greatly appreciated by the participants in both programs, especially for the ladies’ Ooh La La clothes closet.