Helping the homeless, one turkey at a time

Robert Mullen, Reporter

It’s a lot like my high school cafeteria. Probably a lot like most cafeterias, or the line through a Panda Express. A metal shelf with servers and eaters on opposite sides, food choices are in metal trays, and you walk through and get your items. Today’s main lunch items are either burritos or hot dogs.

So it goes daily at the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Between five and 700 people each day come through the kitchen doors: The homeless, the poor, and people living off welfare.

Most of this food comes from private donations, and there’s an awful lot of food in stock. Two whole walk-in freezers filled with vegetables, fruits and meats, a pantry full of canned goods and other non perishables, and loaves, buns, and rolls sit in stacks against the wall. In the back there are boxes of heartier produce from farms: potatoes, onions, even some oranges, and maybe a hundred pallets of two-liter bottles of Sierra Mist.

Due to the holiday, there are turkeys beyond counting piled in the back of one freezer, more turkeys than I’ve ever seen.

The first job I’m given is unloading a truck of donations from Fresh and Easy, which apparently donates daily. Giant plastic garbage bags are full of food and produce, all a day old.

We probably unloaded 1,000 pounds of food in this manner. Then of course there are boxes and bags of more whole turkeys, and even chickens. These things are thawed and expired, and we end up throwing away five or six dozen.

When we sort through the food we end up with three milk crates worth of stuff that’s actually fit to serve: Jerky, cookies, bread, a few cartons of fruits, some peppers, green beans, and some (barely) frozen pizzas; the rest we throw away.

While I was there, the staff consisted of myself and half-a-dozen others; the week of Thanksgiving, and the weekend just after, the kitchen was fully staffed. As Christmas approaches, I’m told it will fill up again, too. “Holidays are like that,” one of the managers told me.

I’ll be going back a few times between now and Christmas. I worked during the slower moments; I can’t imagine what it will be like during breakfast and dinner times, when the kitchen is essentially open to the whole public. I wonder how full it will be closer to Christmas, when people have run out of food stamps, or have had to choose between a few presents and food.