Embrace the New Year with A Touch of Home

Posted on Jul 19, 2012 in Marc Sparks: In the News | 0 comments

Barbara Walch

A single mother of three loses her job and can no longer pay her rent. A pregnant 18-year-old is told she is no longer welcome in her family’s home. A high-tech executive loses his house after months of unemployment. These are all unfortunate circumstances that can lead to despair in someone’s life. In the absence of family and friends who can help, where can someone in crisis turn, especially individuals and even entire families who suddenly find themselves without a home? The answer: The Samaritan Inn.

“We were founded in 1984 by the Collin County Ministerial Alliance and we are a homeless program more than a homeless shelter,” explains Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of The Samaritan Inn. “It’s not just a place to sleep and eat but a very intensive therapeutic program that leads to independence. The person who comes in here has to articulate the desire to be independent. So somebody who is interested in living on the streets or has a chronic homeless problem is not a candidate for us.”

She continues, “We are the only homeless shelter in Collin County – one shelter with 120 beds in a county of over 730,000 people. So we are consistently full and unfortunately turn people away on a regular basis. The youngest (resident) we’ve had, who was 2-days-old, came directly to us from the hospital because the mother had no place to go with her brand new baby.
The oldest was an 84-year-old widow who had a
problem son who got her into problems and, as a result, she ended up evicted.”

Lynne says another little-known fact is that approximately 30 percent of the residents are children under the age of 10 who are living there with a parent or parents.

The Samaritan Inn prides itself on being “more than just a place to sleep.” Besides providing a clean, safe environment, the shelter is staffed with professional case managers who meet with each resident to develop a workable plan towards independence. Classes in life skills, support programs, legal and financial counsel, and mental and physical health services are also provided, as well as job training. In one such program, named “Greater Goodies,” residents make chocolate truffles which are sold at a variety of local venues. Residents learn job skills as they participate in production, inventory, bookkeeping, customer service, and sales. “Greater Goodies” received the Outstanding New Project award in 2006 from the Texas Homeless Network, which also recently named Lynne Sipiora as Executive Director of the Year.

A not-for-profit organization which provides free services, The Samaritan Inn is dependent on financial contributions from individuals, churches, corporations, grants, foundations, and United Way. It takes $1.5 million a year just to keep the shelter open and operating. According to Molly Castillo, Development Manager for The Samaritan Inn, they also hold several fundraisers every year. “We have an annual golf tournament and the Good Samaritan Awards Gala, which is our biggest event, held in October,” she says. “There are several other things on the drawing board, but right now we are also selling our new cookbook A Touch of Home, which is a collection of recipes gathered from staff, volunteers, and donors. The cookbook sells for $20 and because the entire project was donated to us, 100 percent of the proceeds benefit our program!”

“We have a wonderful benefactor who has been involved with The Samaritan Inn for many years and has been overwhelmingly generous,” Lynne adds. “His name is Marc Sparks and he came up with the idea. As a venture capitalist, he funds starting businesses all the time, so he’s a real idea guy. He said, ‘All I would like you to do is go to your membership, your employees, and your constituents, and see if they have great recipes they would like to share then send them to us.’ And that’s all we did, which was incredible … absolutely incredible! About six months later, he called and said that 10,000 cookbooks were going to be delivered, so make room for them.”

An entrepreneur and philanthropist whose involvement with the shelter began in the late 1980s, Marc Sparks says he actually got the inspiration for the project from the Dallas Junior League. “I found out that 50 percent of the annual budget for the league is funded by their annual cookbook sales,” he says. “I thought how incredible it would be to have a custom cookbook that expressed The Samaritan Inn’s image while helping fund the cause we are so dearly committed to. This cookbook is the first annual book and we hope to publish a new one every year.”

After the recipes were collected, they were sent to Megan Sullivan, who worked as art director on the project and has worked for Marc Sparks for the past 10 years. It was her responsibility to research the recipes to ensure they made sense; type and organize the final selections; work with the publisher to complete the book; and design the cover – all still at no cost to The Samaritan Inn. “Since the name of the book is A Touch of Home, we tried to choose down-home cooking recipes. Many of the recipes submitted are family favorites that have been passed down from generation to generation,” Megan says. “I love the finished book and have already found many new favorites.”

A Touch of Home, A Collection of Recipes from the Friends of The Samaritan Inn is filled with over 200 recipes. It’s a wonderful eclectic mix of easy (Cookies While You Sleep) to ethnic (Grilled Italian Chicken Sandwiches) to exotic (Asian Lettuce Wraps) to decadent (Sinful Pie Dessert). Cookbooks can be purchased for $20 each on their Web site www.thesamaritaninn.org, at the shelter located at 1710 N. McDonald St. in McKinney, or at the Friends of the Inn Thrift Store at 103 E. University in McKinney (it’s the bright purple building … you can’t miss it).

“Greater Goodies” delectable chocolate truffles can also be purchased through those same outlets. The truffles are $1.00 each and are sold in boxes of two, ten, or a “Texas Dozen” of 15.

“And again, 100 percent of the proceeds go into our program and this is significant,” Lynne reiterates. “To keep one person in our shelter – for food, shelter, and programming – it costs $37 a day. We sell two cookbooks, we have it covered!”

A Touch of Home – Recipes for compassion and help

“I am passionate about the homeless problem,” says Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of The Samaritan Inn. “I think an awful lot of people in Collin County think that it doesn’t happen here. But it does, and as the county continues to grow, the homeless problem will continue to grow. The only way I can expect anyone to support our program is if they understand the problem, so I think of myself as a community educator and certainly an advocate for the people who live here.”

Molly Castillo, Development Manager for the shelter, echoes those sentiments. “As development manager for this organization, I’m involved a lot with marketing and with educating the community, letting them know we are here and about our special events. I’ve gone to church garage sales and sat all day in the parking lot, talking to people about the Inn and why we are here. Anytime I get a chance to talk about the Inn, it’s like my favorite subject!”

Right now, both women are also actively marketing the new cookbook, A Touch of Home, A Collection of Recipes from the Friends of The Samaritan Inn. Thanks to the generosity of longtime benefactor Marc Sparks, who came up with the idea for the cookbook and paid all the costs, 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit the homeless program. The cookbooks, which are $20 each, along with chocolate truffles prepared by residents of The Samaritan Inn in their “Greater Goodies” work program are available for purchase on their Web site www.thesamaritaninn.org, at the shelter at 1710 McDonald St. in McKinney, or at the Friends of the Inn Thrift Store at 103 E. University in McKinney.

Also check out their Web site for other ways you can donate to this worthwhile program or can volunteer your time. “We have hundreds of volunteers who do all kinds of things from mowing the grass, painting a wall, mentoring the residents, babysitting, stuffing envelopes,” Lynne says. “We couldn’t survive without our volunteers, that’s for sure!”

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