Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 10, 2014

Shocking paradox: Wealthy America is home to much hunger

Open Heart Kitchen hosting free screening of film on U.S. hunger

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Hunger is not only omnipresent across the nation, it's right here in the Tri-Valley.

To raise awareness of the problem, Open Heart Kitchen, whose hardworking volunteers serve more than 260,000 free meals each year in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore, is showing the documentary, "A Place at the Table: One Nation. Underfed.," at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The award-winning film will be screened at the Firehouse Arts Center and followed by an overview of hunger in the Tri-Valley presented by Open Heart Kitchen Director Linda McKeever, and a question-and-answer session with the audience.

"I've always felt that no one should be hungry in America," said Joanne Hall, a board member of Open Heart Kitchen. "Here we are, the wealthiest nation in the world, and we have a lot of hungry people -- even in the Tri-Valley."

"A Place at the Table" examines the paradox of hunger amid wealth through the stories of three Americans who face food insecurity daily, and it shows how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for the nation.

The film includes insights from experts, such as hunger activist and actor Jeff Bridges, author Raj Patel and Tom Colicchio, of "Top Chef." The musical score features original music by Grammy-award winning indie folk duo The Civil Wars and Grammy and Oscar winning producer/composer T Bone Burnett.

Although the presentation is free of charge, there will be donation boxes.

"We won't charge because it's about attracting as many people as we can and about being educated," Hall said. "It is a great opportunity for our high school students and high school clubs and leadership looking for nonprofits to support. They can learn how to do volunteer service."

An education table about Open Heart Kitchen will be in the lobby, with board members available to offer more information.

The group will also introduce a new fundraising plan, the Birthday Box. The idea is that when people invite friends to a party to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other occasion, they can have a beautifully decorated box on hand to receive donations to Open Heart Kitchen in lieu of gifts.

"I'm going to be 60 next summer and will have a big party, probably, but I don't need presents," Hall said, giving herself as an example. But friends who want to do something for her can instead put donations into a Birthday Box.

Open Heart Kitchen feeds anyone who walks in the doors at its serving sites, with no pre-screening necessary. Meals can also be taken to go. It works in cooperation with the Alameda County Community Food Bank, more than a dozen local food pantries and various Tri-Valley nonprofit groups whose mission is to promote nutrition and hunger relief.

"Linda Seever is going to talk about the need in the Tri-Valley -- it's really surprising," Hall said. "It shows how important it is to have safety nets like Open Heart Kitchen and the Alameda County Food Bank. She'll also talk about how students and other people can get involved."

Meals are offered each weekday, rotating among sites in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore. For more details, visit www.openheartkitchen.org. Open Heart Kitchen always needs volunteers, Hall said. As a board member, she sometimes gets an emergency call to help out in the kitchen.

"We have slots to fill every day," she noted.

Last time she was called, they handed her a bucket of onions to chop.

"Whenever I volunteer I bring goggles in case I'm cutting onions," she said with a laugh.

Meals are planned weeks ahead of time by a nutritionist, each with protein, starch, vegetable, green salad, fruit salad, bread, milk, coffee, tea or juice and dessert. Volunteers prepare the food, including all the shopping, cooking, serving and cleanup. They must also be prepared to switch gears at a moment's notice as sites can serve anywhere from 200 to 700 meals per day. Large donations of perishables can change the menu at the last minute.

Guests include low-income families struggling to make ends meet, the unemployed and underemployed, seniors on fixed incomes, and the homeless.

"We're predominately a volunteer organization and we're very, very community friendly," McKeever said in an interview last year. "A lot of people in the community are involved on the volunteer side and helping us do anything."

Thursday's event is co-sponsored by the city of Pleasanton and the Dublin Rotary Club. The Firehouse Arts Center is located at 4444 Railroad Ave. in downtown Pleasanton.

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