Manny Roca offers his time to the organization that once helped him.
The former participant in the Primavera Foundation Men’s Shelter now makes monthly meals there, along with church friends Shelly and Robert Hoffman. The trio started “To Be Free Ministries” to help people who are experiencing homelessness, with a goal of offering hope and support, Manny said.
He’s far from alone in his service to Primavera. Hundreds of volunteers like Manny provide critical work for the organization, everything from packing lunches and serving meals to doing data entry.
Primavera volunteer coordinator Eric Cross says the assistance is always welcome, whether it’s a long-ago participant or a community member who just recently heard about Primavera and wants to help.
“I love it when things fall in place, when things work out,” Eric said of Manny and two others signing up to make a monthly meal at the men’s shelter. “They asked if this is something they can do regularly, and I said, ‘Of course!’”
Primavera relies on volunteers to help support its roughly 8,000 participants each year with services such as sheltering those experiencing homelessness and helping people become homeowners, avoid eviction or train for a job.
Volunteers not only enable Primavera to help vulnerable or marginalized community members, they also save the organization money.
During the 2022-2023 fiscal year, volunteers bringing in food for sack lunches and men’s shelter dinners helped save over $125,000, Eric said. Overall, the savings from volunteers add up to around $600,000 per year, he said.
Eric, now in his seventh year with Primavera, said the volunteer pool dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s working hard to bring those numbers back up.
An estimated 900 to 1,000 people were volunteering for Primavera before the pandemic but now there are about 600 to 700. Ideally, the organization could use about 1,200 volunteers.
What’s needed? More meal teams. Before the pandemic, he had enough recurring dinner teams to cover the men’s shelter for an entire month, but now there are only 17.
Other needs include making sack lunches for the men’s shelter, for the Casa Paloma Women’s Hospitality Center and for Primavera Works, the agency’s temporary jobs program. Volunteers are also needed to help with data entry, filing, trips to stores and, with some additional training, doing participant intakes.
Manny stayed at the Primavera men’s shelter a decade ago, an experience that changed his life.
At the time, he said, “insecurity and fear dominated my life.”
He became aware of his problems with anger, he said, and also was changed after a homeless man he knew died suddenly.
“I started thinking, ‘Am I going to die that way, being homeless and in poor health, without family and without friends?’ ”
Manny, 64, asked for help and, with guidance from the Primavera Foundation, took part in anger management therapy with COPE Community Services Inc., a partner organization, for two years.
“I became victorious over my own fears,” he said. “I became free from all that junk.”
Manny says he knows what it is to be homeless and is happy to volunteer to help others experiencing that situation.
“I want to give back,” he said.