Published February 19, 2008
Volume 16, Number 2

Open Heart Kitchen is Feeding A Growing Need  

Less than a month after signing on as Executive Director of Open Heart Kitchen, Mike Carter is staring down a few formidable challenges. Last year the local non-profit served an average of 3,500 free and filling meals per week from four different sites in the Tri-Valley, in a program whose only eligibility requirement is need. “Anybody can come. If you’re hungry, we’ll feed you,” is the way Carter describes the organization’s mission.

As 2008 unfolds, Open Heart Kitchen continues to live up to its commitment, but it’s feeling the strain. Already this year the number of weekly meals served has inched upward, and Carter is concerned about having enough resources to meet the demand. “Like any business, it’s either grow or close your doors,” he remarks. In all its venues—churches in Livermore, Dublin, and Pleasanton, and the Ridgeview Senior Center—Open Heart Kitchen’s client base is evolving into “a real cross-section of people,” from the suddenly needy, those caught in the crosshairs of corporate lay-offs, a few of which have affected both earners in a household, to the traditional client base, families working 40 hours a week while earning just $12,000 a year. Across the board, “the numbers are growing, and we’re trying to prepare,” Carter comments. 

One stumbling block for the agency, founded back in the mid-1990s, is limited facilities. Cooking is done in two locations, at Ridgeview and at a smaller church kitchen in Livermore. The multiple steps before and after, from picking up donations and putting the food into storage to packing and loading prepared meals in a truck for delivery, are far from streamlined. “Our long-range plan is to have a place with a centralized kitchen, but right now we’re scattered and it’s harder to maintain the operation efficiently,” Carter confides.

Another vulnerability is a shortage of volunteers. “Last week we had just two workers  at one location, serving 400 meals. They had to prepare, cook, and clean up after 400 people. We really need community support to help us with the serving crews.” 

Carter is proud of the agency’s output, which, in addition to the 3,500 meals per week, includes about 50 dinners for the Ridgeview Seniors and about 2,000 box lunches prepared and distributed every Friday to middle and elementary schoolers who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend at home. “We also have part of a FEMA contract to feed the city of Pleasanton if a major earthquake or other disaster hits,” he reports. 

While applying for grant money to fund infrastructure improvements, Carter is also developing a campaign to attract more resources, including  fundraisers beyond the barbecue/dance event held in February. Businesses and individuals can sponsor food drives or make contributions at www.openheartkitchen.org. If you are interested in offering help with meal service, call volunteer coordinator Geneal Williams at (925) 580-1619, or email volunteer@openheartkitchen.org

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