Meals are handed to guests by masked and gloved staff who ensure social distancing is followed by those in line, making sure they are standing at least 6 feet apart, do not congregate in groups and are wearing face masks (which are provided for clients that do not have one). More frequent cleaning procedures have also been implemented.
We have seen spikes in the number of people that we serve since February. The Dining Room can accommodate increased volume, as needed. We have seen month-to-month increases as high as 48% in the number of meals served.
Soon after we pivoted to temporarily serve to-go meals only, a conscious decision was made to provide hot, nutritious meals, as we did in pre-COVID times.
The Padua Dining Room is one of 10 nonprofits benefiting from donations to The Almanac's Holiday Fund this year.
I have been volunteering with St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room since the late 1990s. One longtime client, whom I'll call L, has a noticeable presence because of his physical size and always friendly and appreciative demeanor. One Saturday a few years ago, I noticed that L was using a fork to create a drawing on a disposable aluminum tray that we sometimes use for desserts. I was intrigued and impressed by his skill.
In subsequent visits, I would see him drawing on napkins, scraps of paper, and whatever was available. Oftentimes kids, who come to eat with their families, would gather around him as he created drawings of superheroes like Spiderman, Batman, or ones that he made up.
Over the years, I found out that L, although on disability, is a person who gives to others, whether a frail senior that he informally took care of, or a family in his neighborhood going through hard times. L would share his one bag of groceries with others in need. On a recent visit picking up a to-go meal and a bag of groceries from a makeshift window, L told me that he had a stroke and is finding it difficult to draw. His demeanor is still upbeat and he mentioned that he will be sharing his groceries with a family in need.
Nadia has been volunteering with St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room for over 20 years. Even though she is now in her 70s, she still volunteers every Saturday, coming across the bridge from the East Bay. Before the pandemic, when we were able to serve our clients in our dining room, Nadia became familiar with numerous clients. She is known as the "dessert lady" because her normal duties are to cover the dessert counter where clients choose their desserts.
Over the years, Nadia has been able to determine which ones were living on the streets (which is estimated to be about 5% to 7% of those we serve). Nadia would set aside special bags of groceries that did not contain items that require cooking for them.
The majority of our volunteers have been helping the Dining Room for years. Students who volunteer for community service hours required by their schools often come back and volunteer on their own because they have found the experience to be fulfilling and rewarding. We look forward to the day when we can resume in-house dining, so we connect in person and socialize as a "Dining Room community" again.
Rickey Ono is the chair of the advisory council for St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room.
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