For the last several months, San Elijo Hills families have been gathering together to provide meals to the homeless in Carlsbad and Encinitas. But they aren’t just filling bellies, they are building connections and creating bridges to better understanding.
Jeannine Melville was actively looking for a way to serve the homeless in our local community. It was also important to her that her daughter be included because Jeannine wants her daughter to see that not everyone lives the same way we do here in our neighborhood and there aren’t many opportunities for kids to directly come in contact with and serve the homeless in a safe environment. Once she found an opportunity with Fill-A-Belly, she quickly shared it with other families in the community and the response was overwhelming.
Fill-A-Belly serves the homeless every Tuesday at Holiday Park in Carlsbad and Cottonwood Creek Park in Encinitas. They have been there rain or shine since 2008. It’s an amazing organization that not only provides meals, but an opportunity for connection.
All you do is show up with your dish and everything else is provided – table, utensils, lighting, chairs, etc. Everyone is assigned a task such as handing out donations, desserts, napkins, etc. And then families sit down together with the homeless to enjoy the meal. Eating together breaks down the barriers and stereotypes while allowing a chance to share stories and really get to know each other.
Since May, over 300 moms, dads, kids, friends, and grandparents from San Elijo Hills have participated. The program has been a huge success and most families are eager to return, saying that it was a rewarding and memorable experience. The guests are so grateful for the amazing food, donations and fellowship.
Jeannine has created a Facebook group called SHE’s that FEED which now has 197 members. Through this Facebook group, one Tuesday is scheduled at each location each month. Ten families from San Elijo Hills sign up to provide the meal for approximately 40-50 homeless people. Fill-A-Belly provides everything else, which makes it very easy to participate. Each participant can choose the dish they want to bring from a list of available main, side and veggies dishes slots. From there, everyone shows up ready to serve. Volunteers are encouraged to make a plate and sit down with the guests. The night is more about creating connections and friendships than serving food.
“We are fortunate to live in an area where there aren’t many homeless people. However, many parents want their children to have an awareness of what’s going on in the world and provide them with an opportunity to make a difference. Activities like this teach children about compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude, and community responsibility. Children realize that small things can make a big difference and they become more appreciative of what they have because they realize others aren’t as fortunate as they are,” Jeannine shared.
Participation is open to men, women and children. Everyone is welcome! (That includes YOU!) There are also ways to serve Fill-A-Belly beyond the food. Donations are accepted for coats, jackets, shoes, blankets, etc.
What a fantastic way to make a direct impact on the lives of others – especially as we move into the winter months. If you’d like to sign up, just go to the Facebook group “SHE’s that FEED”. You will find links to sign up under the description page.
For more information on Fill-A-Belly or to make a financial donation, go to fillabelly.org. Stay up-to-date on their events and needs by connecting with their Facebook pages at Carlsbad Fill-A-Belly and/or Encinitas Fill-A-Belly.
If you would like to volunteer with neighbors from your San Elijo community, please join the SHE’s that FEED group on Facebook and get in on the magical connects that are happening there.
And, if you are wondering what it is really like to “Fill-A-Belly,” here are just a few comments from people who have participated.
“We had an amazing experience tonight and can’t wait to give back again. The kids were all so incredibly grateful to be able to help, and those less fortunate people in our community could not have been more gracious.” – Mia Medina
“Such a great event. So glad I was able to go tonight. So many deserving people, they are all so appreciative of what is being done for them.” – Trish Reeder
“We were honored tonight to spend the evening serving the homeless in Carlsbad. It was such a great experience for my kids to be able to see these people as real human beings who are just having a tough go at life… To hear stories, see their kind & grateful hearts and experience real life outside of their bubble. Thank you Jeannine Melville for introducing us to the Carlsbad Fill-A-Belly program and organizing the SHE’s that FEED. You’ve given us a gift and we are grateful!” – Jodi MacDonald Gallan
“We enjoyed the opportunity to help serve. It was neat to see how much this program is needed and blesses so many. My boys commented about how everyone was so kind and grateful! We are looking forward to serving again. Thanks!” – Kathy Wieland
“We want to thank you for giving us the opportunity tonight to serve our wonderful community. What a fantastic organization and so happy to be a part of it. We’re looking forward to filling more bellies.” – Sarena Bomarito