Sheri Eibschutz wasn’t expecting to suddenly be moved close to tears when she walked through a San Luis Obispo park on Friday.
But when she was met by a homeless man who said her annual Christmas dinner and care package giveaway saved his life, she couldn’t help but get a little choked up.
“He said he wouldn’t have made it through the winter last year without it,” she said.
Eibschutz is one of the co-directors of Christmas Dinner for the Homeless, an annual dinner started by the San Luis Obispo Jewish community, that gives local homeless individuals a free holiday meal, plus care packages with winter clothes and necessities.
Each year at 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Day, hundreds of SLO’s homeless receive a new sleeping bags, sweatshirt, winter coat, socks, underwear and toiletries, as well as what Eibschutz describes as a “really decadent” meal donated from SLO County restaurants and businesses.
The event is in its 20th year this Christmas, and Eibschutz and co-director Naomi Blakely have been with it since the start.
“We are beyond fortunate people,” Blakely said of why she is drawn to the program. “It’s community service and giving back and being aware of and available to support whomever we can.”
Since it’s first year, Eibschutz and Blakely have fine-tuned the program into a well-oiled machine — even in the face one year of a rainstorm that toppled tents and flooded the building — so that nothing gets in the way of a project that helps around 350 homeless people each year.
“One of my favorite memories is of a gentleman who got all of his gifts,” Blakely said. “It was the year it was raining, and he curled up underneath the overhang in his new sleeping bag and said, ‘This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had,’ and then went to sleep.
“He felt like he was safe and secure, and just nodded off.”
Both Blakely and Eibschutz are adamant that it’s not all entirely their own doing.
“The community support that makes this possible is overwhelming,” Blakely said. “It’s very mind-boggling, impressive and heartwarming.”
The list of local groups, businesses and individuals who help with the event is long and includes a number of local businesses and charities.
This year’s event also features music from local musicians Billy and Charlie Foppiano, Kevin McCracken, Anita Henry, Michael Friedlander and Eric Dalton.
“This is really a community-wide event,” Eibschutz said. “I don’t think there is anywhere in the U.S. that is going to take care of their homeless as well as SLO is.”
Community support for Christmas Dinner for the Homeless
Odd Fellow’s of San Luis Obispo provides the building; SLO Camp-N-Pack provides care package goods; Ride-On provides transportation; Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center donates the heated tents where people pick up their care packages; United Way SLO helps with the administrative and organizational needs; American Marborg donates portable restrooms; Talley Farms, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab, Margie’s Diner, Apple Farm Restaurant and California Fresh donate food and drinks. On top of that are volunteers and donations from the Congregation Beth David and Ohr Tzafon, Temple Ner Shalom; King David’s Lodge; Roman Bukachevsky MD; William Miller Electric; PG&E; San Luis Garbage and Los Ranchos Elementary School third graders.