How This Desert Nonprofit Is Fighting Homelessness With Daily Hot Meals

Well in the Desert Offers Various Amenities and Services for Those Experiencing Homelessness

Written By: Lynne Eodice
Photographed By: Melissa Bandli Well in the Desert

Well in the Desert gives hope, dignity and healthy meals to the homeless via its food and intervention programs. With a yearly budget of $450,000, the nonprofit organization receives donations from churches, foundations and generous individuals. From setting up Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations to van transportation to hot lunch sites, these services accommodate to socially and economically-challenged residents. In order to go in-depth with Well in the Desert’s history and goals, we had the opportunity to catch up with President and CEO Arlene Rosenthal and talk about the importance of such an organization in the Coachella Valley and Greater Palm Springs overall.

Well in the Desert was founded in 1996 by Dr. Wayne McKinney, a retired pediatrician from Hawaii,” Rosenthal explains. “He noticed that there were homeless people in Palm Springs and started a simple food program.” McKinney started out by giving hot meals to the homeless at a local church. He continued to do this for some time, but eventually he was forced to leave when difficulties started and the operation was moved to Sunrise Park in Palm Springs.

About 15 years ago, Rosenthal stepped in as the “interim” president at a time when everyone really wanted the organization to go away, she says. When she took over, she found that McKinney had kept the files in written form, so she updated this system. She also began grant writing and raised funds to save the organization financially. Rosenthal resurrected Well in the Desert and has led it to become the major grassroots, nonprofit organization that it is today. She says that she’s often amazed by all the amenities that Well in the Desert gives to the homeless.

“We offer healthy, hot meals Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” Rosenthal says. Friends provide their homes and church halls for this purpose. Staff and volunteers cook at the Church of St. Paul’s in the desert each day, and people have the opportunity to leave with a sack lunch if they choose to. “On Saturdays, we have food distribution and about 200-250 families come to our site in Palm Springs.” Well in the Desert gives healthy food to disadvantaged families with children, seniors, handicapped individuals and anyone who can prove that they live in a domicile. They also provide emergency food boxes to people who have run out of food. Additionally, Well in the Desert provides heating and cooling centers where the homeless can receive clean clothing and a shower during the day.

In May, Well in the Desert will begin offering Bingo and a movie to the homeless once a week. This organization helps homeless and low-income families gain health insurance and jobs and assist those who are eligible to apply for disability. “Some want to go home, so we verify with their family that they’ll receive them and that they’ll have a place to live,” Rosenthal says. “Then we purchase a one-way Greyhound bus ticket for them along with a $100 Visa card so that they’ll have some money.”

With so many services under their belt, Well in the Desert continues to pave the way for battling homelessness. By spreading awareness and giving recognition to those who help the community, the organization strengthens the effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate homelessness in the desert.

Aloha and Mahalo! The Hawaiian-themed Aloha Fool’s Folly in April is where Well in the Desert recognizes people who have given back to their communities. Another important event is the Desert Jam Session, which features amazing musicians. This year, they will honor Gavin McCloud for his generous community involvement.

Stretch Goals: The biggest amount of donations they raised totaled $45,000. President and CEO Arlene Rosenthal says they strive to make more in the future.

Charitable Cheer: For a long time, Well in the Desert has been part of Barry Manilow’s Christmas fundraiser.

Well in the Desert
441 S Calle Encilia
Palm Springs, CA 92262

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Lynne Eodice is an accomplished writer & photographer. She is the former Features Editor for Petersen’s PHOTOgraphic magazine, and has contributed her writing and/or editorial expertise to Photographer’s Forum, Rangefinder,, California Tour & Travel, Family Photo and Adorama’s Learning Center. She is also the author of Photos That Inspire: Photo Workshop, an instructional book that’s illustrated with more than 200 images by various photographers, published by Wiley & Sons.


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