They were beat, standing there in frayed jackets and thin ponchos, their faces fatigued from having slept in the cold rain of the previous night.
Men, women and children of varying ages waited patiently for a serving of spaghetti, salad, bread, tangerines and a bit of chocolate. To a person they were polite, murmuring their thanks as the Grace Church contingency of the People’s Kitchen heaped their plates during a recent noon lunch at the Prado Day Center.
The People’s Kitchen, which is comprised of 45 groups that take turns serving a hot meal at the center, has been feeding the homeless and the down-and-out members of our community 365 days a year for the past 25-plus years.
Numbers vary as to how many lunches are served each day. On this particular day, 112 individuals ate courtesy of Grace Church’s outreach, but it can range from 80 a day — before the recession — to about 120 now.
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A total of 34,599 hot lunches were served last year.
Mary Parker, former director of Cuesta College’s Nursing Program, has been a People’s Kitchen volunteer for the past 15 years, including 10 as the nonprofit’s board chair.
In the early days when meals were served at Mission Plaza, she said, “It became a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issue,” so the city moved the panhandlers from downtown. Prado Day Center was built as a result, although the downtown still has a transient population of panhandlers.
And here’s an important distinction: the homeless and dispossessed who use Prado’s services — breakfasts, showers, lockers, phones and social services — are by-and-large our own homegrown native sons and daughters.
They may have been living from paycheck to paycheck and got downsized or laid off, lost their house or apartment and are now stressed medically.
As the only homeless day center in the county, Prado:
• Sees an average of 136 individuals use the facility daily.
• Has opened its doors at night as a warming station, with an average of 66 people staying per night during the six nights it has been open this month.
Although almost 1,500 men have been evaluated and deemed eligible for the center’s services, the more heartbreaking statistic is that 380 women are clients and 105 children use Prado’s facilities.
“Children in poverty are the most heart-rending,” Parker said. “How do they learn?”
In order to meet the needs of this fragile population, the center receives some government funding but relies on donations to cover existing and expanding demands.
Toward that end, the center’s 2nd Annual Culinary Carnival is set for Friday at the Embassy Suites.
Friends of Prado need to raise $150,000 annually to supplement government funding, says Dee Torres, director of homeless services for Community Action Partnership of SLO County. The Friends hope to raise $20,000 of that through the upcoming carnival.
If the center doesn’t raise enough money, it may have to cut a fulltime staff person, according to Dave Smiley, Friends of Prado Day Center board chair.
In this time of such need for the center’s service, I for one certainly don’t want to see that happen. Hopefully I’ll see you next Friday for an extremely worthy event.
Lend a hand — and money
The Prado Day Center will hold its second annual Culinary Carnival fundraiser from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Embassy Suites Hotel Atrium.
The event will feature top chefs, wineries, brewers, a jazz trio and vocalist as well as a live and silent auction. To buy a $40 ticket, go to www.sloculinary carnival.com. Hurry, only 250 tickets will be sold.
Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@ thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.