An hour before Westside Ministries opened the gates for their annual coat drive there was a long line of parents and children snaking around the block eager to bundle themselves up into a nice warm winter jacket. Inside the facility volunteers were bustling about making sure the meal would be ready to serve when the doors opened and upstairs a host of children were partaking in activities as part of the afterschool program.
Westside Ministries has served as a beacon of hope to many Turlock residents over the last 30 years, but a decline in donations has the center and its myriad of services facing an uncertain future.
“It’s normal for us to see donations fall off a bit in July, but then they usually start to pick up again in October,” said JoLynn DiGrazia, the founder of Westside Ministries. “But this year that hasn’t happened and that is of concern for us.
“We’re doing an incredible amount of good in the community, especially with the children, and we want to continue that work, but right now the finances are not there,” DiGrazia said.
Westside Ministries was born during DiGrazia’s time as a teacher at Osborn Elementary School, where she witnessed the daily needs of her students for some of life’s basic necessities: food, clothing, companionship. What began as a daily breakfast for the students has blossomed into an organization that feeds an estimated 200 people a day and serves more than 600 children weekly.
“Having been around for 30 years, we’ve seen some of our major donors pass away or age out of their donations,” DiGrazia said. “We have to start re-educating people and let them see the value of donating to us.”
The services Westside Ministries provides are vast and varied. They have an afterschool program that features a library and computer room, as well as recreational activities; they sponsor a 4-H club that grows vegetables used in the daily meals; they offer sports and dance classes and clubs; parenting classes; recovery services; and Bible study groups for children and adults. For some it is a place of spiritual nourishment, while for others it is a sanctuary from the harshness of the outside world.
The organization operates primarily through the work of the volunteer base, with a small paid staff. The monthly costs of maintaining the facility and the services run about $50,000 to $60,000, said DiGrazia. It is entirely supported by donations, and with the recent decline three staff members have already been laid off. If the decline continues, DiGrazia said they will likely have to end the adult services, which includes recovery support and parenting classes and the feeding program would be “on the line.”
“A lot of people are helped here on a daily basis and I hope we can continue to help them,” DiGrazia said.
The organization has had to deactivate their website recently, but there is a go fund me account that is accepting donations. The link is www.gofundme.com/WestsideMinistries. Donations can also be mailed to Westside Ministries at P.O. Box 354, Turlock, Ca. 95381.