Open Heart Kitchen needs one thousand turkeys for the holidays as it continues serving free hot meals five days a week to individuals and families in need. It depends on food and cash donations from individuals and campaigns such as the Holiday Fund.
"We survive just by the generosity of the community," said Executive Director Linda McKeever.
The Holiday Fund money goes directly to the programs, which served 237,000 meals in 2011, including hot meals alternating at sites in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore five days a week and meals for low-income seniors at Ridge View Commons on Case Avenue in Pleasanton.
"This year we're already at that number," McKeever said. "We're looking at a growth of 15%."
And this is after a surge during the last two years due to bad economic times. In 2010, Open Heart Kitchen served just under 217,000 meals, while in 2007, it served 161,000 meals.
McKeever said they have also seen a greater need for their children's box lunch program, which provides weekend meals for low-income children at their school sites.
"We just started in the Pleasanton schools last year, and we will be adding more within the next month or so," said McKeever. "We give them nutritious lunches for the weekend, and we also include younger siblings."
"We also are seeing an increase in the seniors' need," she added. "We now have a new program in Dublin where we deliver box lunches for low income seniors. And also we see more seniors at both meal programs. It's a little harder for seniors to make ends meet right now."
Open Heart Kitchen serves anyone who walks in the door -- no questions, no qualifying -- and everyone is welcome. There is a form, which is voluntary, so Open Heart Kitchen can know who it is serving.
"Our guests are incredibly helpful with all of the process," McKeever said. "It does help us to fill out the form, and they know that."
The guests can eat their meals at the tables set up by the volunteers or they can take their meals to go.
"A lot of times one family member can come and get meals for the entire family, maybe they have someone working part-time," McKeever said. "Our goal is to make sure the whole family is fed."
Guests include low-income families struggling to make ends meet; the unemployed and underemployed; seniors on fixed incomes; and the homeless. Open Heart Kitchen serves as their safety net.
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. The food is prepared by volunteers, who do 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.
"We're predominately a volunteer organization and we're very, very community friendly," McKeever said. "A lot of people in the community are involved on the volunteer side and helping us do anything."
Volunteers range from individuals to those who join with others from their school, community and church. Some groups of friends come to help with a lunch. Open Heart Kitchen also works with Alameda County Community Food Bank, Axis Community Health and other community groups whose aim is to promote nutrition and feed those in need.
Still there is always a need for volunteers, especially after the holiday season and throughout the year.
"People are still hungry in the summertime," McKeever noted.
Last week Tri-Valley food pantries opened their new refrigeration and freezer storage, just in time to accommodate turkeys donated for the region's hungry this holiday season. The new refrigeration/storage unit was made possible through a collaboration of corporate, government and local nonprofit agencies, McKeever said, plus the city of Pleasanton is providing a secure and centrally located site for the storage unit.
Learn more at ww.openheartkitchen.org or call 580-1616.
Feed the hungry
* Mondays, 4-6 p.m.: Crosswinds Church, 6444 Sierra Court, Dublin
* Tuesdays, Wednesdays, noon-6 p.m.: Asbury United Methodist Church, 4743 East Ave., Livermore
* Thursdays, 4-6 p.m.: Vineyard Christian Fellowship, 460 N. Livermore Ave.
* Friday, 4-6 p.m.: Trinity Lutheran Church, 1225 Hopyard Road
* Seniors (62-plus): Ridgeview Commons Senior Center, 5200 Case Ave., Pleasanton, 4-6 p.m. every weekday. Optional donation of $3.
The following agencies will be supported by the Holiday Fund. Scheduled to receive 75% are:
* Axis Community Health
* Open Heart Kitchen
* Pleasanton Partnerships in Education (PPIE) Foundation
* Valley Humane Society
* ValleyCare Health System
* Hope Hospice
Receiving the other 25% are:
* Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council
* REACH (Resources Education Activities Community and Housing) for special adults of the Tri-Valley
* Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation
* Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley
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