Jack is a long-time volunteer at St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, the large soup kitchen in Menlo Park. He helps serve hot food to some 600 patrons each day who line up to get a warm meal, surplus groceries, and human contact.
Typically, Jack's charge is to serve the daily vegetable. On the tray each hungry guest places before him, he adds a neat dollop of broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, carrots, or peas.
As hungry folks press forward, Jack greets each person. Making eye contact with each, he extends a warm and sincere welcome before they continue down the line for a serving of salad, main course, starch, bread, juice or coffee, and dessert.
Feeding our less-fortunate neighbors
St. Anthony's operates through the work of more than 150 dedicated core volunteers. Whether they are serving on the food line, handing out bags of surplus foodstuffs, assisting at the free clothing distribution center, or handing out new toys for Christmas, volunteers don't asks questions about anyone's status — but hardly because they do not care. They know that when one is vulnerable, even basic inquiry can feel immensely threatening.
Jack recalls one guest. "She loved vegetables" he chuckles. The young woman and Jack built a rapport over many months as she and her preschooler routinely passed through his station.
Explaining the benefits of vegetables to her daughter, she frequently elicited Jack's support. Over time, the health co-conspirators devised ways to instill enthusiasm for veggies in the youngster. The lighthearted process left everyone smiling.
One day, the mother and child stopped coming to St. Anthony's. Jack could not help but wonder about them. Did their abrupt cessation indicate an improvement in circumstance? Jack may never know because he never asked questions.
"The mission of the Dining Room is to provide a hot, nutritious meal to anyone in need," affirms Max Torres, the Operations Manager at St. Anthony's. "There are no fees, no questions, and no one is turned away."
Since the beginning of the 2008 recession, the number of guests coming to St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room has greatly increased. The Dining Room is seeing more families with young children and senior citizens in need of food and clothing here at the edge of Silicon Valley.
How you can help
St. Anthony's relies on donations and grants from individuals, local businesses, and foundations. At present, St. Anthony's is gearing up for the holiday season, when the need for meals and services nearly doubles and additional programs, such as the annual free Christmas toy give-away, take place. St. Anthony's need for cash donations is particularly great at this time.
Individuals and groups can always assist St. Anthony's work to serve the less fortunate amongst us by donating money, food, gently used clothing, or unwrapped new Christmas toys for children 12 years and under. Frozen turkeys and canned food are always welcome.
Individuals and groups can also donate time by volunteering in the soup kitchen operation or clothing distribution center. Training is provided.
St. Anthony's serves all without regard to age, sex, race, religious beliefs, national origin, or disability. At St. Anthony's, "We do not believe in miracles ... We count on them."
Donations to the Holiday Fund benefit St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room and nine other community-service organizations. St. Anthony's is at 3500 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.
> Go to paduadiningroom.com or call (650) 365-9664 for more information.