Thursday, November 24, 2011


My friends Noel and Julie Cruz started a ministry feeding the homeless in Orange County about a year ago. The OC Register ran a story about them today. Let me warn you, these people are remarkable. You won't believe the things they're doing and have done. Prepare to be challenged and humbled.

Here's an excerpt:

Their outreach began more than three years ago when Noel Cruz decided to help a young couple as they gave out peanut butter sandwiches and water to the homeless in downtown Los Angeles.

Wary of street people, Julie Cruz didn't join him. But on the next trip, she pushed aside her fear and went along with Noel, her sweetheart since their high school days in the 1970s.

Together, they found a calling.

Turning their attention to Orange County, they started driving from park to park where homeless congregate. They gave sandwiches and fruit and snacks in bags packed by friends and family.

Before anchoring their soup kitchen at the riverside park near the Honda Center, the Cruzes spent a week living out of their Ford Explorer. They ate in local soup kitchens and slept behind a Taco Bell – all in a hope to better understand the people they'd be helping.

Julie even spent time begging for change near a freeway. Most drivers avoided eye contact, she says, but others showed compassion. A couple with a baby gathered up loose change and gave it to her; a man in a BMW flicked a $20 bill as he drove past.

She gave the $27 she begged to a homeless couple she knew.

Of greater value, she says, is what she learned about hunger: "We'd have one meal and the next thing I thought of was where are we going to get that next meal?"
On Sundays, at the river, the Cruzes answer that question for up to 150 homeless people.

"Sometimes, if this wasn't here, we weren't going to eat," says Jerry Nowakovski, 49, who has survived the past year on unemployment. He and his girlfriend ride their bikes over from a tiny rehearsal studio they call home.

"They give us a home-cooked meal," he says from beneath a battered Fedora pulled down against the rain. "We're grateful, that's for sure."

Julie and Noel Cruz in turn thank those in the community who help them help the homeless.

Their garage is stocked with food and supplies picked up from donors such as Second Harvest Food Bank. They get contributions every week from Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana, Brea High School, and a local Albertsons.

"We could not do this if not for this amazing network of friends and people who we didn't even know before this," says Julie Cruz.

In August, Julie Cruz was laid off, and she now devotes her full time attention to their nonprofit, LifeHouse of Orange County.

"It's so amazing to us," she says. "There are so many stories on both sides of the table

Read the full article

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