• Donations to the Almanac's Holiday Fund benefit St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room and nine other local community service organizations. Donate today.
Story by Bob Dehn, a volunteer at St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room.
Mariano is a long-time volunteer at St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, the large soup kitchen in Menlo Park. Each day he helps serve hot food to some 350 patrons, who line up to get a warm meal, surplus groceries, and human contact.
Typically, Mariano's charge is to serve the daily main course. On the tray each hungry guest places before him, he adds a large serving of roasted chicken, meat loaf, stew, mac and cheese, or whatever is on the menu.
As hungry folks press forward, Mariano greets each person. He extends a jovial welcome and broad smile as each person continues down the line for a serving of salad, vegetable, bread, fresh fruit cup, juice or coffee, and dessert.
St. Anthony's operates through the work of more than 200 dedicated core volunteers. Whether they are serving on the food line, handing out bags of surplus fresh produce and foodstuffs, assisting at the free clothing distribution center, or handing out new toys for Christmas, volunteers don't asks questions about anyone's status. They know that when one is vulnerable, even basic inquiry can feel immensely threatening.
Mariano looks across the large Dining Room toward a group of senior gentlemen who come several times a week. The hot meal served here and the take-home bread and vegetables help stretch their limited resources.
They also come to the Dining Room to interact with friends and to socialize with other regulars. This is an important factor for many and they place the friendship and camaraderie high on the list of benefits of the Dining Room.
Mariano often wonders about their life stories and what brings them to St. Anthony's, but he 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."
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 take place, such as the annual free Christmas toy give-away. St. Anthony's need for cash donations is particularly great at this time.
• Visit paduadiningroom.com or call (650) 365-9664 to learn more about donating to and volunteering with St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, at 3500 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park. The Dining Room serves a hot, nutrition meal from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 52 weeks a year.