Program serves dinner to once-homeless

July 1, 2009 7:27:40 PM PDT
The latest edition of San Francisco Magazine names one local program the "Best of the Bay" when it comes to doing good deeds. The program is called "Dinner with Grace" and it brings together two very different groups of people who break bread and stereotypes about the homeless.

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"For dessert we have homemade gingerbread for everybody, okay?" some local kitchen hands were recently instructed.

The dinner they were making was not cooked at a restaurant, but in a kitchen at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Top chef Russ McBrien and the others cooked what is called "Dinner with Grace."

The monthly meal will be served at one of the hotels in the Tenderloin neighborhood, places where people who were once homeless now live. Their tiny apartments do not have kitchens and they have very little money.

"Mostly I eat like potato chips, hot dogs, hamburgers? This here, I get a well-balanced meal here and I think it's great," said Coast Hotel resident Regina Tillis.

What is also great is that some of those who will eat the meal are the same people who prepare it side-by-side with parishioners and volunteers from the church. It helps break down stereotypes on both sides.

"Up there at the cathedral you have different types of people from every background helping out so really, a good sense of community," said another resident, Roman Sanchez.

The connection extends from the church on Nob Hill to the Tenderloin. At the Coast Hotel, the lobby gets transformed into a dining room. The residents are served at their tables and not cafeteria-style like the soup kitchens.

"Builds their self esteem, makes them feel like a part of something, a part of a family," explained Coast Hotel Manager Shelly Brown.

And, like any family, there is talk at the table. It is called "Dinner with Grace" because folks from Grace Cathedral, like Alex Senchak, share the meal and conversation with residents like Robert Vallejo.

The program is operated by the church and the non-profit agency Episcopal Community Services. Rev. Will Scott and some parishioners started it about two years ago at a hotel just down the street.

"There was a little bit of anxiety. What was going on? What kind of neighborhood? But, what really happened for us was finding community, finding connection and real... a sense of common humanity, that we belong together," he said.

In April, the Coast Hotel became the second to enjoy "Dinner with Grace" thanks to a donation from the Yahoo Employee Foundation.

"I think that shows there are people out here that are interested in them, that they have value," said Coast Hotel Manager Scott Ecker.

The church hopes to add one hotel a year to the program, nourishing both bodies and souls.

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