The Refuge Church of Atascadero has been feeding the hungry since October 2009. Living up to its recent name change, the church offers a safe place for any person in need of a good meal and a peaceful place to dine every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
The soup kitchen began a year and a half ago when Pastor Steve Shively had a vision to have a place that served substantial meals rather than just food donations, said Larry Vizard, who is one of the church’s elders and the organizer of the soup kitchen. Although the kitchen is new, the Refuge Church has offered food donations to the homeless for five years. One guest of the kitchen mentioned that she had been receiving dry goods from the church for three years.
“It’s different from a homeless shelter that has food every night,” said another patron. “The food here is excellent. I really like it.”
However, the food ministry offers more than just food.
When people enter the dining area, they are greeted at the door and have the opportunity to fill out a sheet of paper designating what they are in need of, from fresh socks to duct tap.
Anne Groves has been working in the soup kitchen every week since it began.
“We hand out important things like sleeping bags, tents, tarps,” Groves said. “We always need tarps, especially this winter with the storms. Some people sleeping under the bridges had all of their things washed away. Winter will be here again and we’re hoping to get a head start.”
Several volunteers turned up to cook, serve and pack grocery bags on Tuesday. There is a food pantry of canned goods that is constantly being filled by donations, which gives the church the opportunity to send patrons home with two bags of groceries each. Patrons of the soup kitchen leave with a full stomach and one bag of dry foods and one bag of fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs. Besides fresh food, anyone in need is welcome to choose from clothing and bedding provided by the donors of the program.
“When I saw that they handed out duct tape I was sold,” said one guest of the soup kitchen. “A lot of people don’t realize how important duct tape is when you’re homeless. You can fix anything with it.”
On Tuesday, soup along with meat and cheese quesadillas were served for dinner followed by cake for dessert. Aldo Soto is the assistant minister as well as an experienced cook, and attendants and volunteers of the soup kitchen have proclaimed him as the “greatest cook.” Soto also leads the food ministry in San Miguel where Refuge is reaching out to the Spanish-speaking population as well as the native Masdeco, a tribe that speaks neither English nor Spanish. Soto said they are living in poverty and need both food and clothing.
The dinner was also prepared by Kelly Goodman, who works as a chef at the Danish Care Center.
“I think my gift is hospitality and I get to give it at work for the elderly and here as it’s needed,” Goodman said.
Frank Hotta, another kitchen aide, pointed out the difference between the Refuge’s soup kitchen and other food donation places he had volunteered for.
“They really make an effort to make something with substance,” Hotta said. “A lot of other places I’ve volunteered at just serve pasta. It’s easy and you can feed many people, but the pastor made a point of wanting to give something people could enjoy. It’s good food, it’s something you would even pay for.”
The church received its new addition of a much larger kitchen which includes a six-burner stove and two refrigerators about a year and a half ago. The kitchen is what allowed for the cooking of the weekly meals. Vizard said all of the appliances were donated along with the effort it took to build the kitchen.
The Refuge Church has an ever-growing number of ministries and programs such as the soup kitchen or its recent Friday night San Miguel service, which is completely in Spanish.
The church reaches a wide variety of people through its many programs such as its local TV station and openness to the Spanish speaking community. When patrons go to eat in the dining hall, dinner comes with a 10- to 15-minute service before hand; however, no questions are asked of the people coming in to receive a meal.
Around 15 patrons showed to the dinner and Vizard said that often times twice as many people attend. He even mentioned the church’s idea of implementing a free shuttle bus to bring in some of the hungry for free. The doors are not only open to those who are homeless but accommodate to “anyone and everyone,” Vizard said.
According to www.feedingamer ica.org, an organization dedicated to feeding families struggling to buy groceries, one in eight Americans suffered hunger in 2010, many of whom have at least one working family member.
“With the job economy, car payments, kids, times are rough. We welcome anyone who just needs a hot meal,” Vizard said.
Dinner is served every Tuesday from 5:30 to about 7 p.m. Vizard asks that guests arrive between 5:30 and 6 p.m. to sign up for groceries, clothing and/or supplies as there is limited availability. Vizard mentioned that if anyone were not to receive what they had requested, that it would be available to them the next week. The Refuge church is located at 6955 Portola Road on the corner of Portola and San Marcos roads. The church can be contacted Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or one can visit www.refugechurch.info to find out more.