Julie and Noel Cruz (top right) are doing their part to help the homeless in the Orange community, providing hot meals, supplies, clothing, moral support and more. Their non-profit volunteer organization is currently gearing up for the annual Thanksgiving meal to be served on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving.
With the holidays just around the corner, helping those less fortunate in our community takes on special significance. But for Julie and Noel Cruz, serving the homeless is a year-round mission.
Founders of LifeHouse Ministry of Orange County, the couple spearheads an effort to feed homeless citizens who congregate by the riverbed off of Katella Avenue east of the Honda Center. Noel, who previously ministered to youth via the Anaheim Vineyard Church, first introduced his wife to the harsh realities and heart-warming stories of folks on the street several years ago.
“I was resistant at first, but when he [Noel] took me to Pershing Square in Los Angeles, it was amazing to talk to people you might normally walk by or ignore,” admits Julie. “I fell in love with them and realized I wanted to help people closer to home. We had no idea it would turn into this.”
Initially distributing packed lunches to various parks in Orange County, the couple soon realized they weren’t reaching enough people. Conducting their own research project with the help of another couple, they decided to find out what it’s like to be homeless, so they visited as many soup kitchens as they could, spent evenings interacting with people, pan-handled on a freeway ramp, slept in their car and tried living off $5 a day.
That experience shined a light on how best they could direct their efforts with their non-profit.
For the last three years, LifeHouse has operated as a 501(c) (3) with more than 30 volunteers who meet every Sunday afternoon near the Honda Center to serve hot meals to the homeless.
“We prepare the food at our house beginning at 6 am and then transport everything in a big white trailer,” says Julie. “We get donations from a bakery, a donut shop, an Albertson’s grocery store in Brea and a synagogue that obtains food from Trader Joe’s. We receive our non-perishables from Second Harvest. We’ve even had donations of leftover filet mignon from a five-star resort.”
In addition to food, the organization provides clothing, books, toiletries, tarps and other items to the homeless. Julie says the rewards of helping people are a hundred fold.
“What we’re doing is about creating relationships and giving folks a meal,” she says. “When you take the time to get to know them as real people, you come to understand how amazing some of them actually are.”
For more information, visit LifeHouse OC on Facebook.