Glide feeds prime rib lunch to the homeless


While people are skiing and spending in greater numbers this year, people should keep in mind that far too many among us are suffering too and the organizations that help them are facing a tough year for donations.

Homeless and hungry San Francisco residents dined on free prime rib at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood on Christmas Eve -- an ongoing tradition for 18 years. Glide partnered with San Francisco's House of Prime Rib to offer a complimentary lunch of prime rib, spinach, mashed potatoes, rolls and dessert.

Some volunteers have made this a tradition to keep coming back.

"It's enjoyable. So, I don't think of it in terms of years," says volunteer Gordon Baranco.

For others, it's the first time they've volunteered here.

"It's just fun and it's just a good way to help and do it on Christmas Eve to share your joy," says volunteer Rachel Price.

It's never too early to start learning how to give. Families make it a tradition. Every year on this day, Joe Betz of San Francisco's House of Prime Rib donates about 2,000 pounds of meat--enough to feed 3,000 people.

"In one way, it makes you feel good doing it, but on the other hand you really see some of the misery," says Betz.

This year, Glide says the lines are longer. Donations are down by 20 percent, while the demand for services is up.

"We had to go through what a lot of non-profits and also a number of people who had to give up their homes, their cars, all of the things that go with a recession, and people suffered. We have people in line who have never been in a line before in their lives," says Rev. Cecil Williams from Glide Memorial.

"I got the idea after our restaurant was put in a column for serving 1,400 pounds of meat in a day," Betz said. "It was only a moderate day and so I thought 'Why not give back?'"

Betz and Williams agreed that the luxury of prime rib was the perfect way to tell the homeless that people care.

"We want to tell them that they are important, good and valuable to this community," Williams said. "When we offer our very best, like prime rib, I think that conveys the message loud and clear."

Williams said that Betz approached Glide with the idea of a prime rib meal years ago.

"I think that he had heard about us on the television and through papers," Williams said. "He really wanted to work and do some good. Since then he has lifted people up by filling them with prime rib."

According to Williams, the annual luncheon was met with enthusiasm right from the start.

"When we first started the tradition, my God, they just all went wild," Williams said.

The church also holds a Christmas turkey dinner, but said that Christmas Eve was the perfect timing to offer an additional meal after they saw the joy it brought to the community.

"People were anticipating the big meal that comes on Christmas - the turkey, gravy and all the trimmings," Williams said. "Gravy is very important, you know. So we figured it was the perfect time to host another meal."

Williams said that, due to the harsh economic climate, the church has had difficulty serving everyone that comes through their doors.

"The recession has hit us very hard--just last week we had to turn people away," Williams said. "We try to never go without meeting their need, but sometimes the money or food just isn't there. And it hurts."

The meal is served at Glide's sanctuary, where they have two rooms to accommodate the long lines of people.

"We have a very organized system worked out," Williams said. "It looks like chaos, but we get the job done."

Williams said that there is a large room, where the majority of diners can sit, along with a smaller room designed for the elderly and women with children.

Although the logistics of feeding 3,000 mouths may seem daunting, Williams said that the thought behind the meal is easy to understand.

"The idea is simple - people who have sharing with those that don't have," Williams said. "So often, we turn our heads when we walk by the poor, we turn our heads when they are not looking like we want them to look. This is an opportunity to share an experience of gratitude with them."

San Francisco resident Lubbie Sevier has had many holiday lunches and dinners here.

"They made a way for me to live a better life today," says Sevier.

One big meal follows another at Glide. Friday afternoon, volunteers were already working on preparing Saturday's Christmas feast.

People signed up to volunteer for Friday's lunch three months in advance, six months ahead of time if you want to help serve Christmas dinner on Saturday.

Glide wants to remind everyone that they need volunteers everyday because they serve three meals a day, every day of the year.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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