"There is such a need," said Executive Director Linda McKeever. "The people we're serving most right now are under-employed. Lots of times they had two with incomes and now only have part of one income. Do they buy food or pay the light bill?"
"A lot of people have lost their homes, and two or three families are in one home," she added. "More people than ever are living in their cars right now."
In 2010, Open Heart Kitchen served just under 217,000 meals, and this year it will probably be more, McKeever said. By comparison, in 2007, it served 161,000 meals.
"We hit a basic need and really try to do it with dignity, which is why we allow people to take the food home if they want to," she said.
The Holiday Fund money goes directly to the programs, which are the 17,000 hot meals given out monthly at Tri-Valley sites five days a week; the children's box lunch program that provides 1,700 weekend meals for low-income children at school sites each week; and meals for low-income seniors, available at Ridge View Commons on Case Avenue in Pleasanton. Seniors, of course, are also welcome at all the meal sites
"We survive just by the generosity of the community," McKeever said.
"There are so many stories and so many families," volunteer coordinator Hildie Neumann said. "One day they are living in a hotel and the next day we know they are outside, living in the elements."
"From Springtown in Livermore to Ruby Hill to Castlewood, it affects us all, it depends on our personal circumstances," she continued. " Maybe they're your next door neighbors and you don't know it. Anybody that sees our signs is more than welcome -- no questions, no qualifications, they can walk up and ask for a meal."
She noted that a site can serve from 200-700 meals per day so volunteers must be adaptable and able to quickly switch gears, which is the challenge and the fun of it. Sometimes large donations of fresh produce will come unexpectedly.
"We can improvise at the last minute: We'll cut it up! Sauté it!" she said with a laugh. "We're in continuous prepping mode and cooking mode."
Meals are planned weeks ahead of time by a nutritionist, each with protein, starch, vegetable, green salad, fruit salad, bread, milk, coffee, tea or juice and dessert.
"We're always looking for volunteers," Neumann said, for shopping, cooking, serving and clean-up.
"We truly, truly can't do it without our volunteers, McKeever said. "They're very, very dedicated."
Volunteers range from school, community and church groups to friends who exercise together then come to help with lunch, she said, as well as individuals. Safeway, Trader Joe's and Costco donate food, and Whole Foods allows fundraising activities, she added, plus Wal-mart donates items such as children's shoes when its inventory changes.
McKeever noted that Open Heart Kitchen works with all the Tri-Valley agencies such as Axis Community Health and Shepherd's Gate to share donations of items and to make sure that everyone's basic needs are met.
"We all work to keep community as healthy as possible, and it all starts with the basics of nutrition," she said. In other words, a good hot meal.
Learn more at ww.openheartkitchen.org or call 580-1616.
Feed the hungry
* Mondays, 4-6 p.m.: Crosswinds Church, 6444 Sierra Court, Dublin
* Tuesdays, Wednesdays, noon-6 p.m.: Asbury United Methodist Church, 4743 East Ave., Livermore
* Thursdays, 4-6 p.m.: Vineyard Christian Fellowship, 460 N. Livermore Ave.
* Friday, 4-6 p.m.: Trinity Lutheran Church, 1225 Hopyard Road
* Seniors (62-plus): Ridgeview Commons Senior Center, 5200 Case Ave., Pleasanton, 4-6 p.m. every weekday. Optional donation of $3.