Mari Gonzalez and her three daughters

Feeding Hearts, Minds and Souls

Relocated family feels at home in dining room

When Mari Gonzalez and her family first stepped into St. Vincent de Paul’s Family Dining Room on Sep. 10, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She saw tablecloths on the tables, servers bringing food to the guests, a salad bar, and all the way in the back, she noticed the Dream Center.

She had no idea this is where her online search would lead her. Just four months ago, Mari, her husband and her three daughters were living in Puerto Rico. They had lived in Puerto Rico for two years because economically, it was less expensive to raise a family there than it was in the states. Unfortunately, Mari discovered that the culture and education system in Puerto Rico did not place a priority on children with disabilities. Her youngest, Jocelyn, 8, has nerve damage in both ears leading to permanent hearing loss. In addition, she was born premature at 4 pounds, 8 ounces, later resulting in learning disabilities.

Mari spent two years fighting for coverage and benefits for her daughter’s care without success. So she decided to make the move back to the United States.

“I wanted my girls to have all of the education and health benefit opportunities that I had when I lived here. I want them to have a chance at higher education and the opportunity to apply for scholarships,” Mari says.

Mari chose Arizona because she had visited once many years ago and thought it was beautiful. She always knew in the back of her mind she would end up here. But she also knew it was a risky move, as she had no friends, family or connections here.

As soon as she arrived, she researched online to find a place to live. Her and her husband found a home, but most of their savings was quickly depleted as they had to pay a security deposit, first month’s rent, back month’s rent and a cleaning fee.

Her husband’s disability check paid for what little else they could afford. During the first month here, she struggled to put food on the table.

“We were basically living at the dollar store. That was the only thing that was affordable to us after our budget was exhausted.”

That’s when her research led her to St. Vincent de Paul.

“They made us feel like family the minute we came in. Coming here five days out of the week, even if we were low on gas, really helped us financially. Not only is it good food, but it’s nutritious. It’s very important to me that my girls eat well, so they can ‘feed’ their brain and do well in school.”

The evening meal was only part of Mari’s grateful countenance. Within the first week of coming to the dining room, her three girls, Jade, 13, Alisa, 10, and Jocelyn, started going to the Dream Center.

She says the Dream Center has been an enormous blessing for her girls, Jocelyn especially. Over the past few weeks, Jocelyn has learned more than Mari could have ever imagined, because of the special attention and tutoring the volunteers give her in the center.

Mari was so grateful she wrote a heartfelt note to SVdP Dream Center Supervisor Cynthia Bach, and her eyes filled with tears as she talked about her daughter’s progress.

Handwritten thank you note from Mari Gonzalez

Mari and her family plan on coming to SVdP for their Thanksgiving meal in a couple of weeks and said she feels relieved knowing her daughters will be able to have a nice meal.

"St. Vincent de Paul cares about families here. They love them. If that wasn’t true, the wouldn’t be doing all of this for all of these families.”

Will you join us in helping to feed more families like Mari’s this holiday season? There are many ways to give, whether it’s by hosting a canned food drive, donating to a sponsored food drive or adopting a family through our Adopt-A-Family program. Learn about more giving opportunities here.


Thank You note translation:

Dear Ms. Cynthia and the 'team at the Dream Center,'
I want to express my deepest gratitude to you as well as to the volunteers of the Dream Center. My family and I have been in attendance here a little over a month, and my 3 girls have benefited from "the homework help" immensely! My 8-year-old that has hearing loss and learning disabilities, has tremendously improved in her "word-association" and "word recognition," and that is mainly due to all of the extra help give to her here at the Dream Center. For that I am tremendously indebted to St. Vincent de Paul!

Blessings, Mari & family