With many of us stressing over school, work and the holiday season, others less fortunate worry about where their next meal will come from. The Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Service (FIES) is a shelter providing food, temporary housing and many services to help the less fortunate in their time of need. Families can also gain life skills that will help them eventually acquire employment and permanent housing. FIES started in 1975 by handing out food from the back of a station wagon. It has since grown to three different centers, all providing services in Fullerton to those in need. I spoke with the Volunteer Board President Barbara Jennings about the shelter and what kind of impact it is making in the Fullerton community.
Q: What is your role with FIES?
A: I am the board president of our volunteer program.
Q: Is that a volunteer position?
Q: Tell me about your program and shelter.
A: We have three locations. We have a food distribution center behind Richmond Elementary that hands out food five days a week between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. We also have the New Vista transitional living center (TLC), which provides housing for nine families at the moment, but the capacity is 12 families. Most of our families in the transitional living center are single-mother households. We also have an adult-living center.
Q: What are the requirements to secure housing at the TLC?
A: Families have to interview for the vacancies. They must be drug-free and be willing to find employment.
Q: How long can families stay at the transitional living center?
A: Six months is the normal amount of time a family can stay, but we can bend that a little.
Q: Can families have an extended stay?
A: Yes, if they are close to getting a permanent place to stay or are working hard to improve their conditions but still don’t have a place to move to yet.
Q: How many volunteers do you have during the year compared to the holiday season?
A: During the year we probably have around 100 core volunteers that work on a rotation. During the holidays, that jumps up to about 350 to 400. All of the volunteers work in one of our different areas from the food distribution center to the transitional living center.
Q: Is there anything different provided by FIES to families during the holidays?
A: Yes. We give out extra money for food, toys and extra gift cards. We usually don’t give out toys during the year.
Q: How many families will you provide food for over the holidays?
A: Around 1,000 families, including 3,000 children, will be provided for from our food distribution center. During the entire year we provide food to over 30,000 families.
Q: Are there any special programs or different places FIES works with?
A: We work with different congregations in Fullerton to help with food distribution and with adult housing. We also work with Project Read of Cal State Fullerton. The students give their time and work with the kids of the transitional living center. They help them work on projects and their reading. It is a wonderful program.
Q: Are there any special holiday programs you focus on at this time of year?
A: We have a program called the Holidays Community Program. We partner with Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and various other programs and congregations to help feed those in need during a 14-day period. We will feed about 3,000 children during that period.
Q: What is the hardest part about working at the shelter?
A: Seeing a family leaving without employment or a permanent place to stay or not having enough time to get the most out of the programs and services offered here.
Q: What is the best part?
A: Knowing that we were able to provide a roof and food to families and especially to the kids. Having an impact on their lives in a positive way.
Those interested in volunteering with FIES or about their service can learn more by visiting their website at FIES.us.