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Clients’ Story

Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa’s (LFCC) daily meal has become a mainstay for Dan. He lives within walking distance of our Martinez dining room and has been a guest there nearly every day since 2016. Dan served in the US Army from 1984-1988. He struggled when he returned to civilian life and fell on hard times. Dan appreciates that LFCC provides a variety of different foods and loves being surprised by the different items introduced to our menu. The fact that there are always different types of grocery items offered is something he relies on and appreciates.

Mostly, Dan appreciates the spirit of connection and camaraderie he shares with the other guests and the Martinez Dining Room staff and volunteers. Dan is very appreciative of LFCC and especially loves our Culinary Arts Training Program. Dan has promoted the program to his friends and others in the community. He looks forward to attending the “dinner for clients” meal that each culinary class prepares to hone their skills.

“It is important to help and watch out for each other. LFCC is an excellent program and a life saver for me, ” said Dan.

After Sherman found Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa in Oakley, he not only found a reliable source of good nutritious meals, he also found many friends and a real sense of community. Debbie, who is the dining room manager of Oakley, is one of his favorites. He really likes the work she and the rest of the staff and volunteers do for the people facing food insecurity in Oakley. They are wonderful, caring and greet him with a smile. All of the services and love have been a lifeline to Sherman. While he likes many of the items made in the kitchen, it can’t go without saying, the pies are his favorite! He loves the hot soups which are made from scratch plus the Chicken Noodle and the Chicken Corn Chowder are house favorites. Sherman has been coming to Oakley for 10 years now, as it is a place where he can get a hot and nutritious meal.

Jeff is a fairly new client to our Oakley location, coming to us in September of 2022. After falling on hard times, Jeff was struggling to find food when, luckily, a friend had mentioned to him that he should try out the Loaves and Fishes Dining Room. Jeff has become a frequent client and he is very appreciative of the services he receives from Loaves and Fishes. Per Jeff, having a place like Loaves and Fishes to go to has, “kept him from starving.” He also finds the connection and interactions with the staff members to be very helpful and comforting. The staff and volunteers at Loaves and Fishes have always been very welcoming and supportive of him. Jeff has a good sense of optimism and seems to navigate challenging times with a quote he is fond of, “Good, better, best – ‘Till the good is better and better is best.” We want to thank Sherman and Jeff for sharing their stories with us and being a part of what makes Loaves and Fishes such a special place for us all. Loaves and Fishes uses input from our clients to help us better understand the needs of the community.

Shannon is a carpenter by trade, but he has always been drawn to opportunities where he could help others. After recovering from Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic, he realized how Covid had negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Shannon began working with a boarding house in Martinez which houses 12 disabled men who suffer from mental illness or other life challenges by helping them with laundry and other basic needs.

Shannon learned about Loaves and Fishes through a friend and now comes to the Martinez Dining Room every day (7 days week) to pick up 12 lunches and bags of groceries for the residents of the boarding house. He reports that the men really appreciate the hot and nutritious meal every day and it helps to give structure to their daily lives. Many of the men live on a limited income and the Loaves and Fishes’ lunch gives them a solid meal every day.

As Shannon says, “Helping others isn’t always easy. Loaves and Fishes has made a big difference to our residents.” We are grateful that Shannon has partnered with Loaves and Fishes to extend a helping hand to members of our community.

Lola enthusiastically thanks everyone at Loaves and Fishes for not only providing an invaluable service but for making her feel cared for and welcome each time she visits the Antioch dining room.

About three years ago, Lola found herself unemployed, homeless and liv­ing in her car. Fortunately, she had heard about LFCC through a partner, St. Vincent de Paul. Lola relied on the hot nutritious meals and groceries from the food pantry as she worked hard to turn her life around. Lola is proud to report that she graduated from the Rubicon Program and earned her degree from Contra Costa College in San Pablo. She now works as a Peer Specialist through the Spirit program.

Lola continues to come to LFCC to help make her income go further at the end of the month. She reports that the vegetables are awe­some and her family loves the spaghetti served every Friday. Even her pets eat well on the pet food she receives from LFCC through its partnership with the Contra Costa Humane Society.

Lola is very grateful that LFCC is able to continue serving meals and groceries throughout the pandemic. “Loaves and Fishes has made a huge difference in my life. I couldn’t manage without it,” added Lola.

Cris never thought she’d experience homelessness. As a college graduate, mother and hard worker employed for more than 35 years, she never thought it could happen to her.

But then in 2013, her mother died unexpectedly and Cris and her adult son found that without their combined income (from the three of them), it took only five months for them to find themselves living out of their car. Cris’ mom didn’t have life insurance and Cris used the last of her own income to release her mother from the morgue for a proper cremation burial.

Without any savings, Cris and son found themselves on the streets; and that’s where they heard about Loaves and Fishes. Cris and her son lived out of their car for three years – sometimes getting a night in a motel, but nothing lasted long. Upon hearing about Loaves and Fishes and its meal program, Cris and her son began attending the Martinez dining room.

“I never dreamed a free, hot meal would be so good,” said Cris. “Also, I was amazed by how generous people could be. There were people older than me, and I’m 60 years old, volunteering to serve me a meal. They are my angels,” added Cris.

Cris came to Loaves and Fishes almost every day while she was experiencing homelessness. She enjoyed the hot meal and appreciate the food pantry filled with fresh produce items she could take away with her and have in her car to eat later. In addition to the food, Cris appreciated all the extras – new socks, hygiene kits and snack packs. “These extras really helped me save money, in fact, I have some of the lotion still in my bathroom right now,” exclaimed Cris.

After living out of her car, Cris now lives in an apartment in Concord, CA. She received help from CORE (Coordinated Outreach Referral Engagement) services from Contra Costa Health Services and moved into HUD low-incoming housing in September 2019.

Although Cris no longer frequents Loaves and Fishes on a daily basis, she stops by when she can to say hello and thank the staff for all they did for her.

“I don’t know what I would have done without Loaves and Fishes,” said Cris. “Everyone there cares and respects you. If you need anything, they will do their best to help you. I’m forever grateful for all they did for me and my son,” added Cris.

Living in her apartment, Cris spends time crocheting blankets. It’s a talent that she has and something she can do to give back. Cris has made several blankets and brought them to Loaves and Fishes for some of the babies of clients and staff. She’s more active and her heart condition has improved. Cris is in a better place and thanks Loaves and Fishes for helping her get there.

“What do I want people to know about my experience,” asked Cris? “I want them to know that my experience could happen to anyone. You could be one emergency away from being me. If my mother hadn’t suddenly died, I may not have needed Loaves and Fishes. But I am so grateful that Loaves and Fishes helped nourish my life to where I am today. Thank you, Loaves and Fishes,” exclaimed Cris!

Volunteer’s story

Sharon joined our volunteer team 20 years ago while she was still working as a corporate buyer for Mervyn’s. She likes the idea of giving back to the community through volunteering, so she responded to an ad in the Contra Costa Times for a volunteer spot with us.

Since retiring in 2004 you can find her every Monday in our Pittsburg Central Kitchen chopping veggies and prepping the daily meals. When she was asked if there was anything that surprised her about volunteering with us, Sharon said,” I am truly amazed by the constant dedication of the volunteers. The demand and the work is not easy, and yet the volunteers continue to show up regularly and give it their all.” That made such an impression on her.

Sharon thinks the world of the staff and volunteers at Pittsburg Central Kitchen. In addition to volunteering, Sharon loves to read, spend time with her family and vacation in Mexico.

Thank you Sharon!

We want to recognize volunteer Patrick Towey!

Patrick has been volunteering at Loaves and Fishes for 7 years now. The best part about the days he volunteers is that he works with all the volunteers and helps to train our new volunteers. But what sets him apart is that he comes in early on Fridays to make his homemade croutons,” which are out of this world,” and we put them in our daily salad.

Thank you Patrick!

I started volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes main kitchen a few months after my husband passed away five years ago.

My friend, Claire Kurkjian, had been volunteering at the Loaves & Fishes central catering kitchen in Pittsburg for a couple of years, and she thought it might be a good distraction for me. She was right! I immediately found that I really loved donating my time to Loaves AND chopping veggies! Well, except the onions!

I had never done any volunteering except through our boys’ school and sports activities, so this was really different and so fulfilling. I feel I am giving back to the community by volunteering with Loaves each week, helping prepare food for the hundreds of meals that James prepares each weekday. I feel my contribution frees up time for head chef, James Porter, so he can devote his time to creating delicious dishes. (The chili mac last week was SO good!)

I have met so many wonderful people in both the Loaves & Fishes kitchen staff who work there, and the other central kitchen volunteers. I truly look forward each week to driving over Kirker Pass. That is the other thing I love especially in the winter when the hills are emerald green and the cows are grazing. It sure beats the freeway, and starts my morning off in such a calm and serene manner.

Student’s Story

Kelly is the parent of an adult child with Asperger’s Syndrome, who she has raised alone. This has afforded her with the opportunity to meet, engage and learn from a very broad spectrum of people. It has also blessed her with patience she never dreamed she could have.
The past almost 25 years have been an amazing rollercoaster ride of extremely high, highs and desperately low, lows. She began this journey as an employee of USDA, from where she thought she’d retire. After working with the USDA for five years, Kelly had a baby who arrived 13 weeks early and changed her life drastically. Her newborn (Pooh) spent 7 months in the hospital and then her husband left. Now it was just the two of them; Pooh and Kelly.

No job. No prospects. Unwilling to leave her sickly little baby with sitters, she had to get on assistance. Even though this is not as she planned, it did enable her to spend time with her son — something she wouldn’t trade for anything. Pooh wasn’t expected to mature past childhood, yet here he is at 24 years old.

Kelly is a singer who cooks! These are two of her greatest passions. Doing these two things lets Kelly touch people, spiritually and physically, making them happy and hopefully warming their hearts. Feeding people provides instant gratification for her! Kelly came to Loaves and Fishes Culinary Training Program after seeing the flyer twice at a county office building but only stopping to take one after she heard a voice in her head telling her to, “go back; go back and look at the fishes.” She turned around and took a flyer home.

Kelly was amazed that the class was FREE. She has been wanting to attend culinary school for years and had even applied to Le Cordon Bleu, but cost was always the deciding factor. Kelly feels like her childhood fantasy of opening a restaurant is finally attainable. Kelly is very thankful to Loaves and Fishes. If it wasn’t for Loaves and Fishes, she believes she wouldn’t have taken the leap of faith to follow her dream. She’s excited to serve others through her passion of feeding people.Kelly believes that just because she’s over 50 it doesn’t mean her life is coming to an end…she believes in new beginnings.

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