This Thursday, one group of San Luis Obispo County volunteers will spend their morning giving more than 100 people something to be thankful for.
People’s Kitchen of San Luis Obispo has served lunches 364 days a year — with the exception of Christmas — for nearly 40 years, People’s Kitchen president Mary Parker said.
For the past few years, People’s Kitchen has worked with the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) and 40 Prado Homeless Services Center to deliver these hot meals every day at lunch, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker said.
Each year, one of those 364 meals stands out from the rest: Thanksgiving.
“Nothing speaks like food,” Parker said of the service the People’s Kitchen provides.
On an average day, Parker said she and a handful of volunteers at 40 Prado will serve between 70 and 90 meals at their daily noon lunch.
On Thanksgiving, though, that number is projected to be closer to 120 meals, and for good reason.
Parker said on Thanksgiving, People’s Kitchen makes an extra effort to prepare a festive meal and make clients feel welcome.
This year, that effort looks like tablecloths, Thanksgiving table spreads and decorations, and a traditional Thanksgiving meal consisting of ham, green beans, cornbread, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.
Oftentimes, Parker said the People’s Kitchen will see a spike in volunteers during the holiday season, but those efforts are better used at other times of the year.
“Everybody starts coming out of the woodwork Nov. 1 to Jan. 1, and right now, we’re pretty filled up,” Parker said. “I mean, we don’t have a lot of opportunities, but people are hungry in July, and people kind of forget that.”
The People’s Kitchen is entirely run by volunteers, Parker said, ever since its inception in 1983 and incorporation as a nonprofit in 1984.
Since then, the nonprofit has also enlisted the help of local businesses and restaurants to supply the funding and resources to provide hot meals each day.
For example, this year the cornbread served in the Thanksgiving meal will be donated by SLO’s Bon Temps Creole Cafe, Parker said.
Due to the organization’s longevity, Parker said none of the original member’s of People’s Kitchen are still living, which she said was a testament to the organization’s importance in SLO County.
“I laugh, but the way you get off this board is you die,” Parker said. “We don’t accept retirements. It’s a commitment — you die or you move.”
For clients of the shelter, the meal brings a sense of normalcy during an uncertain period, 40 Prado employee and former client Christopher Brogdon Sr. said.
Brogdon was a client at 40 Prado for around five months four years ago, during which he was a guest at People’s Kitchen’s Thanksgiving meal.
“I wasn’t able to get to my family (when I was homeless),” Brogdon said. “Having seven kids, it was hard to get back and forth, so it was good to have Thanksgiving, and it was amazing.”
The festive touches and daily service made Brogdon appreciate the work the People’s Kitchen volunteers do, he said.
“To go that extra mile to help the people that are here, it really meant a lot to them — it meant a lot to me,” Brogdon said.
A current 40 Prado client, who only identified herself as “Lisa” for privacy reasons, said she was grateful the volunteers were there to provide a sense of home through the Thanksgiving meal.
“It’s huge for everyone here,” Lisa said. “Even Halloween was special — they got pumpkins, and you feel like you’re in the spirit of things, you know what I mean?”
Lisa said on a daily basis, people don’t realize how much distress food insecurity can cause for unhoused people.
Most unhoused people, she said, miss cooking and enjoying home-cooked meals more than most other comforts of having a home.
Another current 40 Prado client, 26-year-old Fabian Tolan, said this year’s meal represents an opportunity to experience something he has had few opportunities to try: a family meal.
Tolan left the foster care system at 18, and with few options, he turned to 40 Prado eventually to find food, and in turn, became a daily beneficiary of the People’s Kitchen’s lunches.
“Honestly, (the People’s Kitchen) deserve like a grant or something like that,” Tolan said. “The state needs to step in and give them a grant, because what they’re doing is essential to us.”
The People’s Kitchen’s impact goes beyond the meals, Tolan said.
“They’re always here, they help out and they have a smile on their faces, and it makes us feel a lot more appreciative, too,” Tolan said. “At times it can feel kind of overwhelming — you’re in line, you’re trying to get food, (and) you kind of feel like a burden. They really do take that feeling away.”
Tolan said he’s looking forward to the holiday meal this week.
“As someone who doesn’t have any family, who doesn’t really know what that feels like?” Tolan said. “Sounds awesome.”Read On "AOL"
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