MARIN COUNTY, CA — More than 100 low-income families in Marin County will have a Thanksgiving meal this holiday, thanks to Ritter Center.
The San Rafael-based nonprofit organization has already started distributing Thanksgiving meals and is on track to provide more meals this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"What we see at this time of year is a real outpouring of support," Ritter Center Executive Director Mark Shotwell said. "We all know that this year has been hard on all of us, and for people who already have certain challenges, this year's been excessively difficult."
Ritter Center typically provides Thanksgiving meals for 80 to 100 families every year.
At the end of last week, however, 105 families had already signed up to receive a Thanksgiving meal, which includes a turkey, stuffing, vegetables and a pie. By Tuesday, 135 families had signed up for the holiday meal.
"There's much more need," Shotwell said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we exceed 135 families by the time we're done."
Good Earth Natural Foods, ExtraFood.org, Nugget Markets and United Markets all helped with additional donations for the holiday season. Shotwell said the Marin County Sheriff's Office and San Rafael Police Department competed to see which agency could donate the most turkeys.
"And then there's all these community groups — faith-based groups, schools — that come together and gather hundreds of bags that go with the turkey and deliver those to us," he said.
Ritter Center, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, works to prevent homelessness and improve the health and well-being of individuals and families living in poverty in Marin. The nonprofit has provided Thanksgiving meals to those in need from the start.
"Some people may say it's only one meal a year — that's true, and we provide food the rest of the year," Shotwell said. "But it's way more than a meal."
"The board and staff from the very beginning knew this was one of the ways where we can help to create equality for the people that we serve."
Founded in 1980, Ritter Center started as a social service provider to help meet the basic needs of people experiencing homelessness. The organization offered clothing, food, laundry, showers and restroom facilities.
In the mid-1990s, Ritter Center began providing medical care and case management service, and in 2010, the organization started to provide behavioral health counseling and permanent supportive housing.
In 2013, Ritter Center became a Federally Qualified Health Center grantee serving as a Health Care for the Homeless site. Two years later, Ritter Center launched an outpatient substance use treatment program.
"It's a great mix and allows us to meet most of the needs that people come to us with a one-stop shop, which definitely reduces a lot of barriers for folks," Shotwell said.
Ritter Center serves about 4,000 people annually, including about 1,200 patients through the organization's health center, which provides primary medical care, behavioral health counseling and other services. The organization serves about 500 families every week through its food pantry, Shotwell said.
Although distribution of food has already started for the nonprofit's Thanksgiving program, Ritter Center is still in need of cash donations. Donations can be made at the organization's website at RitterCenter.org.
"If you're able to give, think about people in need," Shotwell said.
Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2020, more than 50 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.