Published December 13, 2011
Volume 19, Number 12

Open Heart Kitchen Responding to Unprecedented Demand  

The demands placed on local nonprofits are especially heavy this year. In addition to those traditionally in need, the unstable economy has spawned a new demographic, perhaps best described as those who used to be on the giving, not receiving, side of social services.

“We are feeding a lot more of the under- and unemployed in the area than ever before,” reports Linda McKeever, Executive Director of Open Heart Kitchen, the Tri-Valley organization that provides free, nutritious food through six meal programs in Livermore, Pleasanton, and Dublin.

The logistics behind the task of making 4,000-plus meals a week can be daunting. One group of volunteers does the shopping and food pick-up. Another cooks the food in two different kitchens, then packs it up for delivery. A crew of drivers makes sure it gets to the rotating venues. The seniors in Pleasanton and all low-income Tri-Valley seniors are invited to the “Senior Friendly” meals served Monday through Friday at Ridge View Commons on Case Avenue. Also on Fridays, box lunches are prepared and dropped off at middle and elementary schools to give Title I students something to eat over the weekend, when school lunch programs are not available. The kitchen also packs lunches for those in Livermore’s homeless shelter.

Food comes from a variety of sources. In addition to purchasing directly from food vendors, Open Heart Kitchen takes advantage of the “huge discount” offered by the Alameda County Food Bank. “Safeway has been very good to us, and Trader Joe’s and Costco give us price breaks,” McKeever relates. Some volunteers grow “gardens of grace” expressly to provide fresh produce for the program. Every year County Supervisor Scott Haggerty makes a donation of bulk beef or pork purchased from local 4-H club members. 

Open Heart’s operations director, a nutritionist, selects recipes from a huge data base of dishes that have been analyzed for their nutritional value. Senior meals are structured to comply with age-appropriate dietary needs. The other programs benefit from the seasonal specialties incorporated into the menu. Fresh vegetables and salads are always on hand for vegetarians, and supplements are available so those with food allergies will have a full meal.

McKeever is hoping to expand the late-afternoon service hours in response to stepped-up traffic. “Individuals can have a meal there, or take it home to their families,” she explains. “We have several people who work irregular schedules in part-time jobs, so one family member might come in and get food for the entire family.”

In addition to its holiday appeal for donations, Open Heart Kitchen is looking to streamline its preparation challenges with the addition of new storage quarters. “Right now we are working with the City of Pleasanton and with other food pantries on a joint project for dry storage and a large commercial walk-in freezer and fridge,” McKeever says. In place are all the drawings and half the funding, $54,000 out of a total of $108,000.  The site, on city property on Busch Road, would serve all the local nonprofits.  

The organization’s weekly schedule of venues is on its home page at www.openheartkitchen.org. Information about how to make monetary contributions or food donations is also on the website, including a specific list of most-wanted food items.

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