SAN JOSE – COVID-19 looked as if it were going to spoil an annual Christmas tradition of serving hot holiday meals to hundreds of homeless people in the area, but some local organizations and people rallied to salvage the day.
CityTeam San Jose, a local chapter of the national faith-based nonprofit organization, runs recovery and skill-building programs, and provides meals for homeless folks all year long.
And on Christmas, the men’s center in San Jose has long been inviting hundreds of people who live on the streets to come and watch football on TV, have a hot meal, get their feet washed by generous volunteers and pick up some other items such as fresh pairs of socks and thick coats.
Darlene Tenes, a spokeswoman for CityTeam San Jose, said that warm tradition for this year was canceled weeks ago because of health orders that prohibit gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19.
But earlier this week, one of the men who works in the kitchen program at CityTeam tested positive for the coronavirus, and as a result, the kitchen is shut down through Christmas and for a week after. That meant the nonprofit could not make to-go meals that were going to be prepped for hundreds of homeless people, Tenes said.
“And it just so happens to happen at Christmas,” Tenes said.
“The first loss for us was not being able to invite them in. It’s very lonely being homeless, and for them to be able to be invited in, it offers companionship. They’re able to be part of a warm inviting environment, a welcoming environment. So that went away, ”she said.
The kitchen shutdown, as the men who work there are quarantined, was “really sad,” Tenes said.
“This was like the final blow,” she said.
But Tenes, who also organizes other events around the South Bay, didn’t want to see the whole meal program scrapped.
CityTeam partnered with Moveable, a food truck and mobile events company founded in San Jose by Ryan Sebastian, to get some food trucks and their crews to prepare the meals.
“We didn’t know if people would want to work on Christmas Day, and you have to go out and get food. It’s a lot of work in a short amount of time, ”Tenes said.
Sebastian said last-minute requests for big orders are not uncommon, but they usually come from large tech companies throwing events or parties for employees.
“It was a surprise to get that call, but we were more than happy to jump in and try to help the situation,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Several owners of food trucks Moveable partners with immediately offered to help, and on Christmas Day, Waffle Roost and Cielito Lindo will be distributing meals outside the CityTeam men’s center, he said.
The menu will include choices such as herb-crusted grilled chicken with rice and vegetables, a super burrito with a choice of meat and freshly made tortilla chips, as well as several kinds of sandwiches and wraps.
CityTeam is hoping to collect donations from the public to help offset the increased cost of the holiday meals. The organization usually only spends about $ 2 per meal to make the Christmas tradition happen, as much of the food is donated or bought at wholesale prices, and the men at the recovery center do the cooking, so there are no labor costs.
This year, however, it will cost about $ 12 per person for the food truck crews to put together meals to go.
Tenes and Sebastian both say it’s more costly, but it’s a dual-benefit, as local business owners will get to pay their employees to work during the holiday season, and the tradition of feeding those in need will continue.
“They are true mom-and-pop operations and they have been hammered this year,” Sebastian said of the truck owners.
“A lot of them are not operating this year, or operating at very limited capacity,” he said.
“We’re grateful to be part of it,” Sebastian said.
“I just love that the spirit of Christmas is coming through,” Tenes said of the collaboration to help those in need.
“After such a difficult, hate-filled year,” she said, “it’s wonderful to see all this goodness of people coming together.”
To donate to CityTeam San Jose, go to https://cityteam.org/san-jose/donate-gift