Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

June 7, 2005 > Over one million served

Over one million served

by Susana Nuñez

For nearly 17 years, the Free Dining Room at Centerville's Presbyterian Church has served dinner on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to anyone in need of a nourishing meal and companionship. A group of 200 volunteers rotate through a system that sets tables, cooks, serves and cleans the dining room every week of the year. Not only are meals served, but supply items that more economically stable families may take for granted - toothbrushes, razors, diapers, and even showers are available for those in need. Although some who use the service are homeless, many people are trying to make financial ends meet and use this program as their safety net to provide food for themselves and family.

Guided by the knowledge and experience of dining room supervisor/volunteer coordinator Arminta King, the Free Dining Room has been able to effectively feed those who need just a bit of help. The dining room is totally funded through donations and corporate sponsors including Costco, Safeway and Albertson's. The goal is to feed people in a dignified setting and provide necessities for survival along with a few "tiny luxuries." Every week, the program serves 150 to 300 people.

Initially housed in small and cramped quarters, a remodeled dining hall was opened on March 6, 2003. Throughout renovation of the facility, meals were continuously served. Now, new equipment and a spacious dining facility have created an even more inviting space for the community to dine together. King is proud of the volunteers who keep the dining room operating. "We have a number of volunteers; it does vary but we have been so blessed."

Making sure everything goes well takes a special person who pays attention to detail and plans meals and volunteer schedules meticulously. King has served this role since inception and is the key component to its success. She said, "We have different menus everyday. We have kitchen managers, kitchen engineers, head cooks, assistant cooks, kitchen servers, salad prepares, tray servers, dining room servers, board members, and a pick-up committee." Her program has earned recognition and admiration from fellow volunteers and donors and "runs like a well-oiled machine."

"We try to make this as much as a home atmosphere as we possibly can. That's the reason that we have the round tables; we used to have oblong tables, but they weren't as intimate as the round tables. Here they can come and talk to each other and they feel that they're loved and that's what the program tries to do. We love them, we care about them, and we want to serve them; we're here to serve them," said King.

In April, carefully kept records indicated that 1,015,318 meals had been served by the Free Dining Room. A sign is posted in the dining hall with the number of meals served to motivate all involved. Plans are now underway to celebrate the program's long tenure and success.

Anyone who is in need of a meal and companionship is invited to break bread with friends at the Centerville Free Dining Room.

If you are interested in volunteering or becoming a sponsor call (510) 793-9063.

Centerville Free Dining Room
3400 Central Ave., Fremont
(510) 793-9063

Tuesdays and Thursdays
4 p.m. - 6 p.m.

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