For many San Fernando Valley residents in need, accessing services for food, clothing, and medical care involves multiple trips to several different facilities, a stack of paperwork, and the challenge of finding childcare. At MEND, things are different.
MEND, or Meet Each Need with Dignity, hosts a range of services: a health, dental, and vision clinic; meal and food distribution services; a clothing donation center; and a childcare center. They’re all in the same building, and most importantly to the thousands of clients they serve each year, they’re all free.
“The type of work we do here is very important to the country, to the city,” said Delio, a MEND volunteer in his nineties who has been there for 25 years. “If we don’t take care of these people, they’re going to be a tremendous burden to the city and state,” he said. Indeed, MEND doesn’t accept state or federal funds, and operates entirely through financial and material donations, partnerships, and volunteers like Delio.
The medical clinic relies heavily on retired medical professionals giving their time. “They come with experience,” said Jenny Gutierrez, MEND’s COO and Interim CEO. “We don’t have to do much training.” These retired doctors and nurses work alongside younger volunteers, often students at local universities working to gain experience. In fact, that’s how Gutierrez initially came to MEND.
“My college advisor said that if I wanted to get real experience, go to MEND,” she said. “I had interned in some hospitals, but all they had me doing was pushing paper. I came here, and in the first week they had me translating in the medical clinic. It was very empowering as a student, and it helped me find a job and apply to grad school.” As the older and younger volunteers are working together to benefit their patients, they’re also building a relationship and learning from each other.
The clinic isn’t the only place where these connections are happening. Initiatives like MEND’s Grow Together Project also foster new relationships within families and the broader community with cooking and gardening workshops.
Luke Ippoliti, Food Justice and Sustainability Director, teaches families gardening skills and helps them plant their own gardens at home. Here, he’s seen the older and younger generations connect over these endeavors.
“At the first garden we ever put in, the mother was pretty nervous,” he said. “But the grandmother and grandfather came out and they started working with the kids, showing them how to transplant the seedlings. I walked away knowing this garden was going to succeed because the grandparents had the knowledge and were sharing it with the kids. We see that all the time—the older generation is very connected to the land, and the gardens become a space for exchanging.”
But there are also broader implications for the whole community when a family has their own garden. “So many of them grow more food than they need, so they end up sharing with their neighbors and extended families, and friends,” Ippoliti said. “When a garden is at a person’s home it becomes a source of pride. They become spokespeople or advocates for healthy lifestyles. We’re helping people become change agents in their own network.”
MEND’s cooking classes are also bringing people together in empowering ways. While adult- or child-oriented classes help participants gain new skills, the staff observed that classes with all ages had an additional community-building benefit. The inclusion of children gave older adults someone to help and teach, while the children saw themselves as useful assistants to the seniors. In the end, the groups developed an environment where everyone helped each other. These classes take place in a beautiful, newly renovated kitchen that hadn’t previously been able to accommodate such activities.
Indeed, the entire light-filled facility is designed to be open and welcoming. “Our goal is to serve everyone with dignity,” said Gutierrez. “We don’t want anyone to come here and be uncomfortable asking for a helping hand.”Back to Eisner Journal Directory