“We have never missed a night,” proclaims main coordinator Linda Fidell proudly while her team is setting up tables for another community meal on a Monday night. “No matter if it’s Christmas or New Year’s Eve* – we are here and serve dinner to the hungry!”
For more than five years, the Morro Bay Lion’s Club and 6 other non-profits have cooked meals for everyone in need, and have since then served over 17,500 guests. What initially started as an undertaking by caring people to feed the homeless population in Lila Keiser Park, has evolved into a well-established tradition at the Morro Bay Veteran’s Hall.
“Our clients now come from very interesting demographic backgrounds. Most of them are not homeless, but belong to the working poor, are seniors or individuals that live in their cars or on boats,” explains volunteer Ray McKelvey.
On some nights, they get over 100 guests. Tonight, the star item on the buffet is lamb that has been donated to the SLO Food Bank during the California Mid-State Fair and then distributed to agency partners. Linda’s husband cooked it after a special recipe with herbs and spices that he learned from his mother in Egypt.
Considering the amount of people attending the dinner, the atmosphere in the hall is surprisingly serene and calm with a hint of peace and warmth in the air. Tables on the other side of the room are stacked up with community donations (clothing, toiletries, dog food among others) and shelf-stable items that the SLO Food Bank provides. Guests are able to take home whatever they need. In the back corner of the room a man named Freddy Gleason plays the piano. People are chatting quietly. Many of them come back every Monday, not just for the food, but also to see their friends and enjoy some camaraderie.
While the Morro Bay Lion’s Club prepares the meals on the first Monday of every month, the Morro Bay Lion’s Foundation is the agency partner that cooperates with the SLO Food Bank to obtain supplies that will be shared with other non-profits who are offering dinner on other Mondays of the month: North Morro Church, St. Peters by the Sea Episcopal Church, Central Coast Circle, Quote Club of Morro Bay and St. Timothy’s Catholic Church. “Each team does its own planning and cooking, but we provide the ingredients to those groups that want it. It’s a wonderful partnership and we are very, very happy with it,” states Ray McKelvey with a sincere smile on his face.
Most of the meat, pasta, rice and vegetables that are being prepared are provided by the SLO Food Bank on Fridays. Other consistent food donations come from Cookie Crock, a Bed & Breakfast in Cayucos, Sun-N-Buns Bakery and the Rock Espresso Cafe. “The amount of support we get from the community is overwhelming,” states Linda.
The dinner usually starts at 5 pm and everything needs to be cleaned up by 6:30 pm. The volunteers operate as a well attuned team and soon make this place look as if nobody has been there. “You know,” Ray McKelvey, who is still beaming and smiling, begins to express his thoughts as he is putting away unused plates and napkins, “whenever I am welcoming people and serving them food, I look up and say thank you that I was lucky enough to be on the other side of the table where I am giving instead of receiving.”
*Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on a Monday in 2018. Community dinner will be served both nights!