Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Dinner Photo Story

With more than 300 meals served and 40 volunteers, this Saturday Community Dinner at Welcome is typical of what you would find any 2nd or 4th Saturday of the month.

I began cooking the chili at 3pm. With nearly 10 years experience cooking for the homeless and hungry, I've got cooking for large groups down to a science. Tonight's meal cost about $750 in total (donations from volunteers, in-kind donations and from facebook friends paid for tonight's meal). Other nights AA groups, interfaith groups or meditation groups bring the food.

Volunteers begin arriving at 4pm and then start setting up tables for our guests.

Volunteers also sort toiletries and clothing that are donated by congregations around the Bay Area. We give away hundreds of clothing and toiletry items at ever dinner.

Since I my blog posts are read widely and I travel often around the country sharing the work of Welcome with congregations, sometimes we receive donations from outside the Bay Area. This week, a box of socks arrived from St. Andrews Lutheran Church in San Mateo, CA.

After the donations are sorted, around 4:30pm the desserts are cut and put on plates. Cake is a favorite of our guests. Since the craving for sugary foods are similar to those for drugs, we give our guests many sugary foods through out the evening to enable those working on their sobriety to battle their cravings.

Steve, seen below, brings bread and candy that he begins handing out to guests waiting outside in line around 5pm. Steve also chats with the guests and helps to ensure that they are treating each other with respect and mindful of neighbors who live nearby.

Around 5:15pm all the volunteers gather to set their intentions for the evening. Instructions are given and volunteers are able to ask questions about the dinner before it starts.

At 5:30 guests arrive, find their seats and the volunteers begin to serve our guests.

Sometimes a guest or volunteer will hop on the piano and play some tunes for our guests.

Meals are served from 5:30 - 7pm.

After the meal, volunteers help clean dishes, the bathrooms and the kitchen. Clean up typically finishes between 7 and 8pm.

Saturday Community Dinners

Most feeding programs in San Francisco are not open on Saturday or Sunday nights, the Saturday Community Dinner is vital to hundreds of hungry individuals in our neighborhood. But unlike other feeding programs:

1. Our community dinners serve guests restaurant style (in terms of how we serve and the quality of food), instead of making them wait in a line. Volunteers have often been heard saying that the food served at our dinners is higher quality then they eat at home.

2. We eat with guests, learning their names and stories, allowing them to serve us. As a result, many volunteers discover that they receive more than they feel like they give at our dinners.

Every 2nd and 4th Saturday a month the Welcome Ministry provides a meal to 150-200 members of the community. Many of our guests are homeless or formerly homeless, many are seniors, many are low income and others come to be a part of the community.

Different congregations, students or groups provide the food and volunteer each dinner and eat with guests. For groups, like students and others who cannot afford to provide the food, dinners are sponsored by donors including the Van Loben Sels/Rembe Rock Foundation and a local AA Group (see the photo below). On special occasions we also hand out clothing, socks, help people send cards to family members and hand out blankets.

Fred, Michael and Steve are volunteers who have supported the Welcome Ministry dinners for years. They use the dinners as a way to stay sober and to encourage others to work towards sobriety.

If you are interested in volunteering at or hosting a Saturday Dinner please contact Pastor Valerie McVee ( or 415-673-3572)