food distribution

Setting free meals (from left): Monica Young, Lisa Righter, Ruby Sanchez, Leti Moron, Bil Jordan and John Humphries.

What started out as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich giveaway has evolved into hot meals and grocery distribution every Monday and Thursday in front of the Set Free Thrift Store in Banning.

“We started trying to do something in Beaumont to help the homeless, but Beaumont Police Department wasn’t happy that we were there,” according to event coordinator John Humphries, who is from Beaumont. “We got in touch with Juanita Diaz,” a Banning community activist, “and she introduced us to people in Banning. The city allowed us to go anywhere we wanted, and Set Free welcomed us to set up in front of their shop” at 160 W. Ramsey St.

The Blessing Center in Redlands has volunteered meals for the program.

Volunteer Lisa Righter’s brother Craig Turley is a pastor at the Blessing Center, and has linked the group in with their food distribution network.

No questions are asked, no ID required, and no one is judged: those who drive up are provided for, volunteers say.

Bil Jordan — yes, that’s Bil with one L — says “I’ve always been fascinated with feeding the homeless. I’m a strong Christian, and Jesus told us to do unto them. I was previously homeless, so I can relate to those with paycheck issues. You never know their story. I know what it’s like to be judged” for needing assistance.

“It’s a blessing to let people know you’ve been blessed,” Jordan says.

Volunteer Ruby Sanchez of Banning, who describes herself as “your friendly spiritual neighborhood lesbian,” who is not affiliated with a church.

“At the beginning of the pandemic I noticed they were out here and offered to help. Me and my friends would make sandwiches” for the cause.

The group’s food station operates from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday and Thursday.

Diaz, acting as a liaison between the group and the city, had stopped by earlier during the pandemic.

“When I noticed this particular organization set up helping to distribute meals, I figured many didn’t know about them and went live” on social media to help spread the word.

Their efforts have “been growing. A lot of drivers who are homeless seem to be pulling up,” as well as others who simply are in need, Humphries says.

And everything has come out of volunteers’ own pockets, and through donations.

“God’s always providing,” Humphries assures.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

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