Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Samaritan House volunteer Wendi Ellis and kitchen manager Mario Cousenes prepare food at the nonprofit’s dining room in San Mateo.
After almost two years of searching for a place where those in need can find a respite while enjoying a warm meal, Samaritan House officials were pleased to announce this week they’ve found a new location for their dining services.
The nonprofit has begun to use its Worker Resource Center on Fifth Avenue in San Mateo to provide nearly 200 individuals with a place to have dinner five nights a week, said Samaritan House Executive Director Bart Charlow.
“Being able to sit down in a warm, safe place and enjoy a meal, especially surrounded by other people, is a major plus. As human beings, we need social contact and people who are struggling financially are often isolated. So this way they get that social contact,” Charlow said.
The charitable organization had temporarily been serving to-go meals at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center since it lost access in November 2013 to indoor seating at the Westside Church in San Mateo after nearly 17 years.
After striving to find a suitable alternative where it could serve nearly 48,000 hot meals, Charlow said San Mateo city officials allowed them to use the Worker Resource Center.
“This is one of the best things, one of the good things going on in my life right now,” said Ignacio Martinez, who started coming to the Worker Resource Center about a week ago. “I’ve made a few friends and the food is good.”
Rick Rio, who was getting his dinner of teriyaki chicken, rice and vegetables to go, said he’s been frequenting the Samaritan House dining services off and on for several years. After spending some time in Southern California, Rio said he’s back in the Bay Area looking for work and appreciates the volunteers at the dining room.
“It’s the best. These guys are great, they come here rain or shine and they’re nice and friendly,” Rio said. “Places like this really help out a lot. A hot meal like this is just beautiful.”
Its former locations did not allow access to other forms of assistance, while the Worker Resource Center does, Charlow said.
“Even more, we provide access to our case management services there and we’ll also be providing even more things like job training and classes. So people will be able to access many of their needs, not just the basic access of needed food,” Charlow said. “We want them to take advantage and this is a gentle way to introduce them to [other services].”
Food service is a vital component of the San Mateo-based nonprofit’s mission and includes preparing 154,000 hot meals annually, some of which are distributed to the disabled and isolated seniors, providing 33,000 bags of groceries each year and offering 19,000 lunches and after-school snacks for impoverished children, Charlow said.
“People ask, ‘why are you feeding folks?’ And my answer is ‘it’s the most basic need we all have to survive. And even more so, no one can concentrate on job training or anything else that will help them get ahead until they know where their family’s next meal is coming from. And we take care of that,” Charlow said.
Charlow said the organization is grateful for its fruitful partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank and “major grocery chains in the area who are very generous in supporting us with food every single day.”
While Charlow is thrilled to have found another location that’s proving successful since it opened a few weeks ago, the Worker Resource Center site is owned by the city and ripe for redevelopment.
The center, along with the neighboring former Kinko’s site, were purchased with former redevelopment agency funds in the late 1990s. After years of negotiating to retain the redevelopment properties, the California Department of Finance agreed to allow San Mateo to retain the properties in January.
While numerous ideas have been generated for what the prime downtown parcels could become, redevelopment is a long ways away and city officials have expressed support for the community-serving Samaritan House.
“We work with the city hand in hand. And the city does have control of the property now and long term they will be using that for redeveloping, probably more parking. But there’s the possibility of including some services like ours in the future in the building, but we’re talking three to five years out,” Charlow said.
In the near future, Samaritan House is hosting its annual Knock Out Hunger! fundraiser. This Saturday, hundreds of guests are invited to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City for a swanky evening of music, drinks, dinner, auctions and a live cooking demonstration by celebrity master chef Martin Yan. The annual event serves as Samaritan House’s main event dedicated to food and nutrition, Charlow said.
As the nonprofit provides a broad range of social services to those in need from free health care clinics to housing assistance, Charlow said it’s a relief that they’re able to use a central location to provide sustenance to those in need.
“For the moment, this is the dining room and it’s being well received. There’s tremendous support from local organizations, religious and service organizations, helping us to once again make it a wonderful place,” Charlow said. “The main thing is we are serving our lovely dinner there and families desperately need this.”
For more information about Samaritan House or for tickets to the Knock Out Hunger! fundraiser visit samaritanhousesanmateo.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106