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2020 Love For Our Neighbor Grants: Still Waters Cafe at Shepherd of the Valley, Simi Valley

“This is what we believe: That nobody should be hungry in this world.”

Still Waters Café at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Simi Valley started out more than ten years ago as a dining service for those suffering economic hardship and those who are lonely and in need of companionship. Until March 2020, we would set up tables complete with linens and decorations and serve a nutritious meal every Thursday. We also ran a pantry to help our guests get through the remainder of the week. Still Waters is run by a large group of volunteers who take care of everything from set-up to cooking to clean-up. Some of our volunteers are responsible for picking up donations from Food Share and the Simi Community Gardens.

After the stay-at-home order went into effect on March 13, 2020, it was decided that we had to suspend the dining service to limit the risk of exposure to both clients and volunteers. A small team of volunteers started to distribute food bags on Thursdays instead. Initially, we did not want to send volunteers to send food collections, so we distributed food that we had stored in the pantry and food that was bought from monetary donations.

We noticed that our clientele changed: Most of our homeless clients were temporarily housed at a motel in Thousand Oaks, but we were seeing more and more families affected by furloughs or closures. Before the pandemic, we served about 90 individual meals on a weekly basis. Since then, the need has increased steadily.

Currently, we are up to supplying food to 85 families/ almost 300 individuals each week. We are again collecting donations from Food Share and the Simi Community Garden and have received generous contributions from the community, including the Kiwanis Club, City Councilwomen Ruth Luevanos and City Council candidate Phil Loos. But since the number of individuals we serve has increased so dramatically, we do have to supplement donations by purchasing additional items not available in a particular week. In addition to a bag of canned or dried goods, our clients are able to select from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, desserts, and baby foods. We are also distributing essential items such as diapers, personal care kits or toilet paper. Distribution is set up in accordance with state and county health guidelines (masks, social distancing, disinfection).

We have heard many heartbreaking stories. Several people have showed up at Still Waters with nothing left to eat in their homes and families to feed. We are open to the public from 2 to 6 pm on Thursdays, and clients start lining up at noon because they are worried that we might run out of food. A lady who showed up one week had one bottle of ketchup left for her whole family. We were able to give her enough food to feed her family for the whole week along with an open invitation to come back every week whenever she needs to. She has been coming every week since. Another mother told us that her children have never eaten healthier, due to the fresh produce from the Simi Community Garden.

Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic will be with us for many months, if not years, to come. We are committed to continuing our efforts to help those on need, regardless of housing situation or immigrations status. All of our volunteers are taking great pride and joy in being able to help our community and regard being part of the Still Waters team as an immense privilege. We would like thank the ELCA and Lutheran Disaster Relief for making this possible. The EOMT LOVE FOR OUR NEIGHBOR GRANT has made it possible for Still Waters to significantly reduce food insecurity for many families in and outside of our congregation.