St. Brigid Pastor Kenneth Keke extends arms of welcome to visitors at the event. (Norman Reneau/St. Brigid Church)

Kicking off a century of service, the members of St. Brigid Catholic Church celebrated their 100th anniversary by assisting people less fortunate in their South Los Angeles neighborhood.

The daylong event held on September 18 at Chesterfield Square Park, offered hot meals, clothing, personal grooming and more to both homeless individuals and others down-on-their-luck.

Thanks to a collaboration between St. Brigid and local businesses, nonprofits and the office of Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, scores of people received aid to improve their quality of life.

Lavonne Anderson, second from left, poses with other volunteers from St. Brigid Catholic Church. (Norman Reneau/St. Brigid Church)

Surprised by crowds seeking help, St. Brigid Pastor Kenneth Keke remarked, “I really underestimated this [response], but when the people started coming up [for assistance], I was really amazed.”

As he greeted people in the park, Keke noted, “This is the best way to preach the Gospel. Preaching from the pulpit is not the solution to our problem. This is ‘Practical Gospel’ and I’m so happy.”

Lavonne Anderson, event chairperson, was equally pleased with the generosity of the donors and volunteers; however, the number of people needing a helping hand did not surprise her. A native of the area, Anderson said that she noticed the growing encampment as she drove past the park on Sundays on her way to church.

Staff from Not Your Mama’s Kitchen distributed free barbeque dinners. (Norman Reneau/St. Brigid Church)

“I could see the tents starting to pop up. I was like, ‘We need to do something over there,’ and this is my way of doing that,” Anderson said. “One of our parishioners called today, ‘The Miracle on 54th Street.’ I’m happy to be a part of that miracle.”

As a result of Anderson’s invitation, several members volunteered time, talents and treasures to the occasion. The contributions included new and gently used clothes and shoes along with new underwear, hygiene/toiletry bags, roomy backpacks, and disposable diapers.

Also, NYMK – Not Your Mama’s Kitchen – distributed more than 150 barbeque, string beans and potato salad dinners, Nails by SaVerne provided about 30 manicures, 10 people used the mobile showers courtesy of LavamaeX, and 54th Street Seventh-Day Adventist Church passed out 88 bags of groceries.

Cameron Ellis of Good Fred’s Barbershop cuts hair for a guest. (Norman Reneau/St. Brigid Church)

Guests could obtain COVID-19 testing and vaccinations as well from a booth sponsored by Harris-Dawson’s office. Additional stalls provided free housing and shelter information, mental health counseling, and educational resources.

“We had Good Fred’s Barbershop here and they have been giving free haircuts and facial grooming all day,” said Donna Horton, who staffed the free clothing booth with other parishioners. “Good Fred’s is from the community on 54th Street and they’ve been around since the 1960s.”

Cameron Ellis, Jacquelyn Glover and Kieshon Smith represented Good Fred’s Barbershop. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Jacquelyn Glover, a barber at Good Fred’s, was on hand along with her son, Kieshon Smith, and colleague, Cameron Ellis, who is the grandson of barbershop’s owner, Steve Ellis. They all expressed appreciation for the opportunity to aid other people.

“We come out and give back to our community with free cuts, linings and hairstyles to make the homeless in the community feel good about themselves. One thing I’ve learned is when you give, it comes back to you fourfold. I’m a believer in God and put Him first in everything that I do,” insisted Glover.

Ellis commented that donating services was common practice for the Good Fred’s team. “We tend to give back to the community quite often. We partnered with a group called Brown Bag Lady and every first of the month; we are downtown cutting as well. Whenever we have a chance to give back, we do,” Ellis said.

The concept of giving wasn’t lost on Smith, a young college student who is also a freelance photographer. Describing the event as “pretty cool,” Smith admitted, “I have definitely enjoyed being here. It’s been great just seeing people making other people happy as far as the music, getting your nails done, getting your hair cut, and giving out clothes and food. And it wasn’t just homeless people, it was all types of people from everywhere!”

From left are Valerie Vernado, Donna Horton, Candice Zomalt, Jan Davis, and Therese White staffed the clothing table. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Several others groups either donated or sponsored booths at the event including Reena Shah of Chado Tea Rooms, Chirag Shah of Tulsi Indian Eatery, Elizabeth Weinberg of NLSLA, and Joan Forbes of Our Children Our Future, Inc. Other participants were KJLH Radio Street Team, National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), Biscuits and Gravy disc jockeys, and Assurant, which gave out free cell phones and tablets.

St. Brigid plans more festivities to mark the parish’s 100th anniversary. On December 4, the Los Angeles City Council will designate the corner of 52nd and Western as St. Brigid Square and on December 5, a special 100th anniversary Mass will take place.

“In 2022, we’ll have the 100th anniversary concert and a gala at the Skirball Center,” added Chairperson Anderson. “We’re excited about the future, but, also happy about today, too. St. Brigid has always been a beacon in the community and about giving back to the community. This was a day of service and it was something that we needed to do.”