"Whether it was sharing food from the garden, homemade wine, helping fix a fence ... we used to walk to the St. Vincent de Paul store at Five Points in Lincoln Heights," recalled Moreno, of Oxnard, and now retired. "My family would call them when there were usable discards they might need."
Moreno's current charitable involvements include supporting the St. Vincent de Paul Society's efforts to help homeless and displaced individuals with housing in Ventura County.
"They need to raise funds for this endeavor," said Moreno, who has been involved in fundraising events at St. Joseph's Health and Retirement Center in Ojai for several years. "My idea is to arrange shelter and teach them how to take care of themselves in the process. I commend the St. Vincent de Paul Society for helping the less fortunate among us, and they need all of the help they can get."
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is hoping to partner with other organizations to develop a year-round solution to homelessness in Ventura County, said David Fields, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Los Angeles.
"Gerry has shown tremendous compassion for those individuals and families that are negatively impacted by not having a home," Fields said. "She has a history of volunteering in the community, and her support to our achieving our goals is very significant."
For these reasons, Moreno was honored with the Saint's Award from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Aug. 17 at her family's restaurant, La Dolce Vita, in Heritage Square in Oxnard.
"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is primarily an organization of volunteers," Fields said. "People like Gerry help to strengthen our efforts and develop strong community ties."
Earning praise from St. Vincent de Paul is an honor, Moreno said. "I hope to be of service to their endeavors here in Ventura County," Moreno said.
As Moreno was growing up, her aunt owned a restaurant in Alhambra and her mother, a single parent of three, was a waitress there.
"Both my mother and aunt were very involved with our local parish, putting on events at the school or church, cooking for the priests, all of this was second nature to them," Moreno said. "My aunts and uncles were very involved with many charitable and civic organizations. I cannot remember a time when we kids were not helping the adults with their endeavors in the community."
Moreno's daughter, Michelle Kenney, remembers when La Dolce Vita was "the bus stop for the local grammar school. If the parents didn't pick up their kids right away, we took care of them, gave them after-school snacks and made sure they were safe until their parents arrived. We employed all of the local kids in the area at one point or another. My mom was very good about donating for many charities and fundraisers. She never said 'no.' "
Moreno was taught by her mother to help the homeless and less fortunate, and passed this lesson on to her own children, Kenney said.
"My younger sister — who now owns her own restaurant, as well — and I are following in my mother's footsteps in trying to help and provide for others as much as possible with donations and volunteerism wherever and whenever it is needed," Kenney said. "If this giving behavior is passed down to my kids and future generations, we have done our jobs to create the 'pay it forward' attitude."