In the early 1980’s, when offering basic services to care for homeless people was a radical idea in Santa Cruz, Peter Carota had a vision to do just that. Not yet ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he started caring for the needy by serving sandwiches around town from the back of a long, white van. On the sides of his van, Peter lettered the words “St. Francis Catholic Kitchen” and added a painted image of St. Francis of Assisi feeding the birds.
In Wayne Shaffer, a Santa Cruz realtor like himself, Peter Carota found a like-minded collaborator. The two realtors looked around for a permanent home in which to run a soup kitchen with a dining hall. In 1984, their dream came true. Near River Street, they found an old automotive repair shop for sale on Mora St, right next to the railroad tracks and down the hill from Holy Cross Catholic Church.
To finance the purchase and the remodeling, Peter the realtor sold his own home and investment properties, then donated the proceeds to a brand-new non-profit charitable organization named St. Francis Catholic Kitchen. In addition to Wayne Shaffer, early non-profit volunteers included Beatrice Easter, Harriet Jacoff, Lee Laboa, Charlie Heil, Tom Martin, Mary Helen Tafoya, Cy Udall, Theresa Udall, and many others.
In 1989, Peter Carota purchased and donated a house to serve as an emergency shelter. Located on the west side of Santa Cruz, Jesus Mary Joseph Home is now a transitional shelter for homeless women and children.