A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

Building a bridge, one slice at a time

Building a bridge, one slice at a time

If you haven't had a chance to read last week's post, here's a quick catch-up: I've been helping the church with some fundraising efforts and walking around the neighborhood to see if any businesses are interested in chipping in. We have 23 youth and advisors planning to attend a National Youth Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, this summer, and as you can imagine, that comes with a pretty hefty price tag. We're blessed to be getting assistance from all kinds of people, as well as the Church of the Brethren denomination, to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible. I've had mixed results with area businesses, but one of them has really come through in a big way: The Pizza Press restaurant in downtown Santa Ana.

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I popped into this new restaurant about a month ago, and the owner happened to be working behind the counter during my visit. Her name is Mimi Mar. I explained who I was and that we were looking for donations from local businesses to support our church youth. Expecting either a "Thanks, but no thanks" or at most a coupon for a free pizza, without a beat, Mimi said, "Let me tell you what I could do." She explained that since she's a new business, she's looking to get some traction with regular customers. Her offer was to give us a check for 10 percent of total food and drink sales on a set evening, as long as customers presented a flyer designed by us when they ordered. Pretty sweet deal.

When I told Pastor Richard this idea, he saw it as an opportunity to bring members of the church back to downtown Santa Ana, many of whom have felt alienated from the neighborhood since gentrification took over a few years ago. This could be more than a fundraiser. It had the potential to be a bridge-builder. 

The fundraiser took place this past Monday. The youth promoted the event heavily with flyers, and pastors Richard and Becky announced the event multiple times at church services. On Monday night, a group of us handed out flyers on the streets of downtown, inviting passersby to support the church. One man walking his bulldog stopped to hear our pitch. Minutes later, we found him and the pup sitting at a counter inside the restaurant, one pizza being consumed while another was set aside for carryout. 

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Soon after, familiar faces began walking through the door. Church members brought their families and sat at tables next to other church families. By 8pm, more than half the restaurant tables were occupied by Príncipe de Paz folks. Conversation and laughter echoed in the industrial-chic space. Many of the youth and advisors who are benefitting from the fundraiser came and shared a meal with their church besties.

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We kept the employees busy. Each ball of pizza dough is flattened in front of customers' eyes and topped with as many ingredients as you'd like for one price. After a 3-minute trip through an extra-hot oven, the pies are topped with your choice of finishing touches, from basil to barbecue sauce. The workers here are fantastic, adding dashes of humor and charm to their meticulous pizza crafting.

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When the pizzas are ready, they're slid onto wooden trays and ready for feasting. I'm happy to report that they're even more delicious than they look.

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But even more satisfying than the pizza was the look on owner Mimi's face when she saw the number of people who were enjoying her new restaurant. She proudly showed me the stack of flyers that now had receipts attached to them. "What a great turnout!" she said. This was clearly an above-average Monday night for her. And it was for the members of our church, too, who raved about the pizza and this new restaurant in their neighborhood that they likely never would have tried if they hadn't received an invitation.

Altogether, we helped sell $500 worth of food and beverages that night, allowing us to keep $50 for National Youth Conference. It's a modest amount, but this evening was less about the money and more about the new relationship we forged with Mimi and her restaurant. In an email after the event, Mimi wrote, "It was such a pleasure meeting you and members of your church. If any of the younger people need a safe place to hang out after school, they are more than welcome here."

Thank you, Mimi, for the warm invitation. And thank you to everyone in the church and on the streets of downtown Santa Ana for having the grace to accept it.

When family visits family for the first time

When family visits family for the first time

Looking for a few good neighbors

Looking for a few good neighbors