St. George’s Center has been feeding the hungry in Riviera Beach for nigh unto thirty years. It all started with the small St. George’s Episcopal Church.
When the neighborhood around the Church began to change in the 1980’s, the Church took notice of the increasing numbers of individuals who were obviously in great need of basic things like food and shelter. The shelter issue the Church could not fix, but food was another matter.
Meals were offered in the Church Parish Hall and people came.
The members of the St. George’s parish bought, prepared and served the food. More and more people came to be fed. Soon, it became obvious that this small church could not carry this load alone.
The call went out to other Episcopal churches in the northern part of Palm Beach County and a good many responded. Soon, other denominational congregations were joining in as well. A shared ministry was developed and each participating group took their turn in buying, preparing, and serving meals.
The people who came to eat brought their other needs as well: their need for information about aid programs and how to access them; their need for jobs; their need for clothes; their need for health care; and yes, their need for permanent shelter. A volunteer Board of Directors was assembled to plan and oversee the shared work.
This initial valiant group of volunteers who served the hungry and needy pooled their knowledge and time and tried to attend to these various needs. After about ten years of purely volunteer leadership, the church decided that some professional help was needed. In 1998 the Board of Directors incorporated the St. George’s Center under the aegis of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. Other denominational groups still took part and happily complied with some of the rigors of Episcopalian order, all for the sake of this shared ministry which had come to mean so much to the community of Riviera Beach, and also to the hundreds of volunteers who made it possible. The St. George’s Center active volunteers come from 18 different church and civic groups and now number over 800.
One of the first actions taken by the now-incorporated ministry was to hire a young female priest to provide the professional leadership for the group. At the direction of the Bishop of the Diocese she served as priest in charge of the St. George’s parish and executive director of the St. George’s Center.
One of her first actions was to secure public funding for an after-school program for the children of the neighborhood. Children had always been included in the meal times, along with their parents, much to the delight of the volunteers. Sadly the public funding for this program steadily decreased over the years and the Board worried that the cost to the Center out of its precious contributed budget dollars might threaten the core function of the Center…feeding the hungry. Tearfully, the Board suspended the after-school program in August, 2017. Since that fateful date some special grants have occasionally been secured to provide after school sessions for the children, but no permanent funding has been secured to resume the full program on a regular basis.
Feeding the hungry continues, and increases. The Center now serves a hot lunch and a hot dinner Monday through Friday. Sandwiches are served on Saturday mornings. A hot dinner is served on two Saturday evenings a month.
The Board has often discussed the need for permanent showers for our guests.
In the meantime an independent group comes each Thursday with a trailer equipped with six showers and lavatories in safe, lockable rooms. On Fridays guests wash their feet and receive new socks during the midday meal in an area adjacent to the Church Parish Hall.
What of the near and long term future for the Center? One thing is certain. The shortage for nutritious food will continue in Riviera Beach.
The Center will be needed indefinitely, or as Jesus reminds us, “the poor you have with you always”. The other basic needs of humans will also remain: cleanliness; clothing; basic health screening; shelter (there’s that elusive word again); and a loving, accepting community.
St. George’s Center can continue to provide most of those needs. That ability to serve is dependent on you, the cadre of loyal and generous supporters who have made this ministry available from the beginning. We who love St. George’s Center are grateful for that support and ask you to stay with us for this long journey of compassion and care.