Tim operated a small successful road construction business and Maria was a stay-at-home mom for their two young daughters. They were happy to be living the American dream.
Then, the recession hit. The housing market dried up, sending the economy into a tailspin. Tim’s business took a hit; client contracts were few and far between, which forced his 20-year business to shutter. Maria went back to work as a court reporter, while Tim took care of his daughters. They burned through their savings quickly to keep their home, but in the end, foreclosed.
“We had never been in a position where we had barely enough money for the basics, like food,” remembers Maria. “It was embarrassing, humiliating, and pride got in the way of reaching out for help, especially when it came to food.”
The Brackens moved to Brentwood in 2013. With the help of family and friends, they managed to get back on their feet. Tim was able to restart his business, and clients slowly returned. Maria vividly remembers those tough times. Looking back, she always wanted to ‘pay it forward’ so others didn’t have to bear the burden. “It’s one of those things that was always in the back of my mind, and I couldn’t be at peace until I did something to help others,” comments Maria.
When her family joined Brentwood Neighborhood Church, she found the perfect springboard to act on her promise. She pitched the idea to the church pastor about cooking meals for families in need. It was an easy sell. 30 Blessings was launched.
The title of the program is just that. Meals are prepared for clients for 30 days. Maria and her group grappled with the program’s name. “The word ‘help’ makes people feel vulnerable,” comments Maria. Folks don’t like asking for help because, like everyone, we have too much pride, and that just brings a lot of embarrassment. The name blessing softens the blow, it has a more accepting tone, and who doesn’t want to be blessed?”
Soon after the program was announced, donations quickly mounted, and Maria had enough seed money to launch a food drive. Her project started small. Meals were prepared for parishioners facing hardships, like those recovering from surgery, long-term illness or injury, or for members taking care of ailing parents or welcoming a newborn.
“Life happens and often hardship hits us in the face,” comments Maria. “When we are trying to come up with solutions and make sense of it, every aspect of homelife goes out the window. Simple things like cooking dinner for the family is a monumental chore; this is where we come in. We try to make life a little easier, so they don’t have to think about cooking. We have that covered, that’s an enormous burden off anyone’s shoulders.”
The food drive covers meals for up to four families per month. Meals were prepared ahead of time in Maria’s kitchen. Her two daughter’s pitched in. “I love to cook, so getting everything ready is not an issue,” reflects Maria.
The program gained traction. Church members requested additional meals. With the program’s popularity came volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves to lend a hand.
Ange Monelo became an early convert of the program and helped develop 30 Blessings on a much larger scale. The church’s facilities were tagged to assemble food orders. Volunteers were tasked with a host of duties: selecting monthly meals, grocery shopping, food transportation, washing and cutting vegetables, assembling food items, and delivering meals to clients.
All meals are assembled with Crock-Pot cooking in mind. Volunteers use fresh ingredients to prepare 30 uncooked freezable entrées, which come with a list of ingredients, cooking instructions, ideas for selected side dishes, and an encouraging bible verse. There is no shortage of tasty meals, from pineapple beef teriyaki, shredded pork, Tuscan steak and green peppers, chicken and wild rice soup, chicken masala, to barbeque baby back ribs, and much more.
“It takes a village to make this happen. And we have a village of people who are gracious with their time and money to help others,” comments Ange, who is also a deacon at the church. “Food provides life, but it also conveys a powerful message to any family. You have the family sitting around the table, they are together, and they are talking and sharing the day’s events. They are a family, and food is what makes it happen,” comments Ange.
The program has gone beyond just serving the congregation. In 2017, anyone in need of a meal could sign up. Since its launch, 30 Blessings has prepared and served over 7,000 meals, serving Brentwood, Pittsburg, and Antioch residents, roughly 1,200 meals per year.
Pastor Destined Wright is amazed at its success. “One of our goals is to always have a positive impact in the community. 30 Blessings is exactly that–it’s a blessing to those who are in need of the simple comfort of a good meal. Maria and Angela, and the army of our volunteers, have made the program a success. Their passion is obvious and contagious, so many others have joined the group’s efforts. It can only get better.”
The team at 30 Blessings hopes to reach out to other churches in the area to encourage them to start a similar program. They are happy to lend their talent and experience to teach others how to get started and they have put together an instructional video to facilitate the process. To learn more about the program, lend support with donations, or volunteer, you can go to www.30Blessings.com.
Photos by Melissa Van Ruiten