First published in the Nov. 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Family Promise of the Verdugos, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance, shelter and meals to homeless families with children, staged their annual Empty Bowl fundraiser this past week.
Welcomed by the organization’s board President Jessa Freemyer, event chairman Steven Mozo, and Executive Director Albert Hernandez, more than 250 supporters gathered in the community room of Burbank’s St. Francis Xavier Church for a lunch of various soups donated by local eateries.
The concept of this always successful fundraiser is for supporters to select a ceramic bowl handcrafted by local pottery artists. With their bowl dutifully selected, they then move on to a “soup line” where volunteers from the Walt Disney Company fill the vessel with their choice of steaming soups.
Following the meal, the bowls are taken home to serve as either a piece of art or a functional receptacle that will stand as a symbolic reminder of the hunger, fear, uncertainty and homelessness families in the community face on a daily basis.
“Just like last year was different in that we did a drive-thru pick up because of the pandemic, this year was also a break in our tradition,” Freemyer said. “Because many of our ceramic bowl donors were not fully operational, we decided that instead of a bowl we would provide each of our guests with a commemorative Family Promise oven mitt.”
Pressed on how the organization has been constantly recalculating with both their services and fundraising efforts during the pandemic, Freemyer was unfazed.
“We have a great board and staff that are completely dedicated to doing whatever needs to be done,” she said. “We are prepared and standing ready for anything that may now occur, especially with the lifting of the eviction moratorium.”
After perusing the wares of local vendors, participating in a silent auction and enjoying the day’s hearty offerings provided by Tequilas Cantina & Grill, Coral Café, Kitchen On San Fernando, Metropolitan Culinary Services, Romancing the Bean, the New Deal, Tony’s Italian Deli, Whole Foods Burbank, Kathy Sessinghaus and Porto’s Bakery & Café, the formal part of the event began as Hernandez addressed the assemblage.
“The last 19 months have been incredibly difficult for many families in Burbank and the surrounding areas and with the support of all of you and others, we have been able to help people who have experienced the loss of their homes,” Hernandez said. “We have also been proactive. Through our homelessness prevention program we have helped many families catch up on their rent so they don’t become homeless.”
Going on to explain that the agency now has five core programs, Hernandez said that this past year alone they have been able to make a difference in the lives of 602 families who had nowhere to turn.
Along with expressing his gratitude to the supporters in attendance, his board and staff, Hernandez also recognized eight volunteers for their willingness to do whatever they could to assist the work of the agency. Asked to join Hernandez on stage to accept a plaque for their service were Caroline Veach, Lisa Malm, Jeannie Mintz, Iris Samson and Dr. Beth Marcus, while David Burke, Dr. Jeff Wassem and Sarah Kaufman were honored in absentia.
This year’s Empty Bowl event, made possible by more sponsors than they have ever had, was headed up by the Cusumano Real Estate Group, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, Logix, Warner Bros., and Robert and Catherine DeFrancesco in memory of Bob Piatak.
Others whose commitment to making the fundraiser a success included board chairman Patrick Garney and board members Jane Winter, Diana Moreno, Jodi Reneaud, Kathy Sessinghaus, Romik Hacobian, Todd Leonard, Carol Nunez, Christine Rumfola, Dan Soderstrom, Brian Volpei, Joylene Wagner, Dr. William Wang, Deborah Wierick and David Zuckerman.
Empty Bowl events, which began in Michigan in the early 1990s, have become an international, grassroots effort to fight hunger in America. The local chapter of Family Promise, one of 190 affiliates nationwide, uses the funds raised at this annual event to further its mission of assisting situationally homeless families. That work is handled on a daily basis by staff members Jose “JP” Pentecostes, Carrie Prado, Vanessa Tachiquin, Janice Casazza-Piatak, Lewis Kim, Krystal Lee, Lisa Partida, Chaquitta Boyce, Byron Prado, Candiece Hope, Cameron Chairez and Liz Gutierres.
Established in 2010, the group works with homeless families to help them achieve lasting independence. Partnering with a network of local interfaith congregations and volunteers, they also provide safe shelter, meals and support services such as counseling and job readiness for those in the Burbank, North Hollywood, Glendale and Eagle Rock areas.
For more information about the work of and support opportunities with Family Promise of the Verdugos, visit familypromiseverdugos.org.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.