By Abby Adams
CARLSBAD — If you stop by La Posada de Guadalupe on a weekday, the Carlsbad shelter may seem quiet and empty. The facility’s residents, homeless men and farm workers, are offsite during the day.
But, head toward the kitchen and you’ll soon hear a buzz of activity. Middle schoolers from Pacific Ridge School are busy making sandwiches and assembling bag lunches for the 65 homeless men who live in the shelter.
The weekly volunteer work is part of the school’s extensive service learning program that supports numerous community partners including La Posada, the Arc of San Diego, ActivCare at Bressi, Head Start, San Diego Department of Animal Services, and many more.
At La Posada, students prepare meals, clean the kitchen and make small repairs, such as touching up paint on the dining room walls. According to Kitchen Manager and chef Mary Lisë de Bedts, the additional help makes a big difference.
“Making the lunches is a huge help,” said de Bedts, who has been overseeing food preparation and service at the shelter for almost six years.
“Without the kids, the nighttime staff have to prepare the lunches on top of their other duties, when they need to focus on helping the men. Because the students are doing this, the staff are more available in case there is an emergency and it’s not taking time away from the important work they are doing.”
De Bedts is also appreciative of a new project the Pacific Ridge students will soon take on: making birthday cards for every resident of the shelter.
“Everybody deserves to be recognized on their birthday,” she said. “I can put a card on their bed and when they come back to the shelter at 2pm there is something that acknowledges them. Every little bit of light helps.”
For the students, volunteering at La Posada connects them to San Diegans who may have fallen on hard times.
By volunteering, eighth grader and Del Mar resident Sam Steiger has gained a deeper understanding of homelessness.
“The issue of homelessness is bigger than we think, and many people stereotype homeless people,” he said.
“Actually, most of these people are hard-working and are just down on their luck. La Posada is really good because it gives them shelter temporarily so they can go out and look for work and get a new job.”
De Bedts, who calls her employment at La Posada her “heart job”, becomes visibly moved when talking about the benefits of volunteering for young people.
“It’s a way for you to connect with someone who is struggling with something you may not understand, but you get a better feeling that these are God’s children too. They’ve just gone down a different path for whatever reason,” she said.
“The men are so appreciative of these young people who help them. They feel like the community has embraced them. They have some dignity, they are shown respect and they see that people care. That makes all the difference.”
Students in Pacific Ridge’s middle and upper school have partnered with La Posada for several years.
The shelter, which opened its new, permanent facility in 2013, has been providing essential services to farm laborers and homeless men since 1992.
In addition to providing food and shelter, La Posada helps the residents in achieving independence by providing tools for money management, language instruction, and drug and alcohol counseling.
La Posada also provides medical screening and assistance in finding jobs and permanent housing.
For more information about La Posada, visit www.friendsoflaposada.org. For more information about Pacific Ridge School, visit www.pacificridge.org.