Maris Sturtevant knows the impact a free meal can have on an individual or family. For almost three decades, she was a driving force of the Daily Bread lunch truck program — first through Sacred Heart Catholic Church and then the United Samaritans Foundation — providing meals for the hungry in Turlock and the surrounding area. While recently retiring from her full-time job at USF, Maris continues to make an impact in the lives of those most in need with her work at the We Care emergency shelter and her legacy of service.
Maris attributes her giving spirit to God and the example set by her parents.
“My dad owned a grocery store in Denair… We were right close to the tracks and when (transients) would come to the store, because we were really close, the first store in town when they would get off the train, my dad would always give them food. I was just raised in that kind of thing, where you help other people who are less fortunate to you,” she said.
Raised in Denair, Maris attended Sacred Heart School in Turlock and then Our Lady of Mercy High School in Merced. She studied business at Modesto Junior College, before getting married and moving to a turkey farm in Livingston. While raising her family, she worked at the Stanislaus County Welfare Department and the MJC Child Development Center. Maris also worked for a time at a camper shell business.
While she found joy in her children, Maris said she “felt something was missing.”
Always active in her church, that is where she saw an advertisement seeking people to help with a new program to feed the hungry in Turlock.
Maris was one of the founders of the Daily Bread Ministry. From 1992-1995, the Daily Bread Ministry prepared lunches out of the Sacred Heart Church kitchen to feed the hungry in Turlock. In 1996, the Daily Bread Ministry merged with the United Samaritans Foundation in Hughson, founded by John Rogers.
USF, and the Daily Bread lunch truck ministry, moved from Hughson to a its current facility on S. Broadway in Turlock and expanded to offer a clothes closet and emergency food boxes to those in need throughout Stanislaus County.
Today, USF is the county’s largest non-profit direct food distributor to the hungry, serving 35,000 meals a month. In addition to the lunch program, USF offers clothing and support services like showers, laundry, designated mailing addresses, phones and referrals.
“She is the reason I came on board,” said USF Executive Director Linda Murphy-Julien. “Her strength and commitment to the programs was infectious. She definitely walks her talk and believes in what we’re doing and who we’re serving. It’s not just homeless, it’s those in poverty. In fact, 80% of who we deal with are working poor.
“One of Maris’ sayings is no one should be hungry, not in our area.”
Murphy-Julien said over the years, Maris made some amazing decisions and connections with people.
From the farmer who picks up the spoiled fruit and vegetables to feed to his pigs to the lady who brings 15 to 50 loaves of bread every week and the many community members who bring truck loads of fruit picked from their properties, Maris connects those willing to give to those in need.
“Maris has a strong sense of what needs to be done and if not me then who?” said Murphy-Julien.
While Maris was helping to guide USF in its mission to feed the hungry, she never stopped growing in her personal spirituality. In 2000, Maris and her fellow USF colleague Debbie Silva, wanted to start a lay missionary order in Turlock. The two traveled to San Francisco and went through a two-year program with the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, an organization founded by Mother Teresa. At the end of the program, Maris and Silva took vows of the Order — poverty, obedience, chastity and service to the poorest or the poor.
“What an amazing order of nuns. I think what really helped me was that they were always so joyful,” said Maris.
They worked with the nuns in San Francisco to serve the poor and then when an Order was started in Sacramento, Maris and Silva moved to serve those in the Valley.
Maris and Silva tried to get an Order of the Missionaries of Charity to come to Turlock, but with no luck. It was soon after their training, that Maris got involved with the creation of the We Care emergency shelter through the Turlock Community Collaborative in 2003.
“It really fit in with their Order. The nuns were so excited that we were doing this,” said Maris.
While she had devoted much of her life to working to help others, We Care was a labor of love and she was glad to volunteer her services to the shelter.
“I just really loved doing the work,” she said.
While officially retired now, Maris is still very much involved in We Care.
“I feel called to be here; to do what I do,” she said. “It’s not a job to me, it’s a calling. I know God called me to be here.”