– Feeding the body, healing the soul –
Occasionally, Harvester’s Producer Member Profile features charitable and community-oriented efforts by FFVA members.
The Lighthouse Café began in 1993 with a box of doughnuts and a donated building.
FFVA producer member Paul Allen of R.C. Hatton and three others in the Everglades Agricultural Area — Rick Christmas, Chuck Royal and Jimmy Elrod – saw the need for a beacon for the body and soul in Belle Glade.
“Chuck Royal’s company had a building in downtown Belle Glade that was used originally for migrant workers. They had apartments upstairs,” said Debra Allen, Paul’s wife and a café volunteer. “It was a three-story building with a kitchen downstairs and a dining room. Chuck thought, ‘Let’s use that for the café. And that’s where it all started,” she said.
At first, the men walked the streets of Belle Glade with a dozen doughnuts, talking with homeless people, prostitutes, drug addicts and others. It took a bit of time, Allen said, for the street people to trust the men. But trust did grow, and soon the group not only provided meals to all who were hungry, but spiritual guidance and practical support as well.
“It grew to a full-fledged breakfast, and more and more people wanted to come. And then they changed it to lunch, because they could better serve the people who needed the meal the most. They can have fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and a dessert. We also get donations from USDA and sometimes we get a lot of vegetables from growers because we are in a farming area,” Allen said.
The Lighthouse Café’s mission is to not only feed people physically also to feed their spiritual needs. Volunteers offer to pray with patrons and help line up assistance with health care, addiction programs, Social Security and other resources.
A group of dedicated volunteers makes the café’s efforts possible. They cook, clean, minister and assist in other ways. Through donations, the café even offers jobs, sometimes to former patrons. “They show up every day and mop and cook and do whatever we need. Three or four of them get paid a little,” Allen said.
Volunteers include youth groups, who often come to work for a week. They paint, cook, serve food, and conduct vacation Bible school for the kids. Lighthouse is affiliated with Christ Fellowship, a Palm Beach County church with a branch in New York City. “They have a sort of boys and girls club called the Life Center, and they partner with us,” Allen said.
In addition to serving food and providing spiritual sustenance, the Lighthouse Café offers donated clothing and other goods. Allen is particularly thrilled with a new children’s section called “Ella’s Closet,” named after a child of a well-loved local family who passed away.
Ella’s Closet stocks infants’ and children’s clothing, high chairs, baby wipes, and other items that new parents need. Mothers can attend classes and earn the items they want.
“We’re going to have our first infant CPR class next Monday. A lot of the women who come to the Lighthouse are very excited. It’s a very important class, so they receive what we call ‘Ella bucks’ for attending. They take that into the closet, and they can purchase what they need for their child,” Allen said.
Donations come from a variety of sources. “If I post something on the Facebook page about something we need, someone takes care of it,” Allen said. “For example, we needed hangers. Now we have too many hangers. Yesterday, I posted that we needed wipes and Q-tips and somebody brought some to the dedication of Ella’s Closet. And these aren’t necessarily church people. They’re just people in the community. Church groups, however, are very supportive in the cooking and cleaning. You can’t run a place like this without them.”
“The Lighthouse Café is an excellent example of how FFVA members get involved with their communities and philanthropies not only to give back but also to support the areas in which they both live and work,” said Sonia Tighe, FFVA’s director of membership.
To donate, items may be dropped off at the Community United Methodist Church in Belle Glade, 401 SW 1st St., from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., or at Lighthouse Café, 400 SW Ave. B Place, Belle Glade, from 7 a.m. to noon. Learn more about what is needed by visiting the Ella’s Closet Facebook page.
If you are interested in volunteering at the Lighthouse Café, stop by. It’s open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m.