It's been six months since Open Heart Kitchen was facing closure due to lack of funds. And while the economy has sunk deeper since then, the nonprofit, which is the only hot food service in the Tri-Valley, is thriving.
It's all thanks to the local community, which executive director Linda McKeever said has been the organization's saving grace.
"We're really pleased," she said. "The community has really stepped up to the plate and we're looking good through 2009, so we're very happy about that."
Open Heart runs free hot meal programs in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin five days a week, serving food to people who are down and out. With the current economic situation, McKeever said the demographics of people in need are changing.
"We're seeing a lot more seniors in the program and we're also seeing a lot more families, where one or two have become extremely underemployed because of the amount of hours cut back or have become unemployed," she said. "We're seeing a lot more meals go home with people than in the past."
Even with an increase in those needing a free meal, Open Heart hasn't expanded its programs.
"That' truly going to depend on community need, when people see that need, we ask them to contact us and we can look at the demographics and see if that's practical or not," McKeever said of possibly adding more meal service. "We are looking at that possibly with the schools in Dublin to see if they see an increase in need in their area."
Community members who have stepped up recently to help the nonprofit include local businesses, people who volunteer their time and children, McKeever said.
"The kids in the community have really reached out to help others in these economic times," she said. "It's amazing to see--the amount of fundraisers the high school kids are doing and the amount of food drives."
A couple months ago, Lynnewood United Methodist Church raised nearly $45,000 for Open Heart, donations that came from the church's congregation. Youth church members organized a talent show and dinner, setting up a donation station in the church lobby. Their efforts were capped by "Souper Bowl Sunday" when they wore football apparel and collected buckets of coins and bills at Sunday worship.
"Lynnewood has a special connection with Open Heart Kitchen," Steve Elliott, outreach leader for the church, said. "Our congregation helped found Open Heart and they operated out of our church kitchen as their home base for many years."
And businesses who once donated to more national and international causes have elected to instead donate locally, she added.
"Now, what a lot of businesses are doing is pulling back into serving locally," McKeever said. "People are wanting more to help their own neighbors because they can see the impact it's having. They're also donating personal hours, coming down to get to know the program."
And that's not to forget the many people who volunteer on a regular basis, with whom McKeever said Open Heart Kitchen would not be possible without.
Now back on solid financial footing, McKeever said the organization is looking to acquire some reserves so Open Heart doesn't face the danger of closing again.
"Because we don't know what the economic times are, we're trying to build a buffer so that we have working capital if we go through more difficult times," she said. "That's what we did not have in the past. That buffer will help in case we need to expand programs, just depending on the need."
For more information about Open Heart, visit www.openheartkitchen.org.