COVID-19 tries to cancel Christmas dinner for San Jose homeless — but fails
Twice a month, homeless residents in Silicon Valley are treated to a fine dining experience as part of CityTeam's Hope Cafe program. File photo courtesy of CityTeam.

    With a COVID-19 positive case forcing a quarantine and temporary closure of CityTeam’s kitchen, the San Jose nonprofit is scrambling to make sure its annual Christmas Day feast doesn’t sour.

    “We normally feed the homeless every day,” said CityTeam spokesperson Darlene Tenes. “But Christmas Day is a particularly special day because we invite them all in, put on the NFL games and give them haircuts. They do foot washings, give them new shoes, socks and coats.”

    CityTeam feeds hundreds of homeless residents throughout the year in the kitchen of its men’s shelter on Charles Street, where residents at the facility work to prepare the food. But a positive COVID-19 case shut down the kitchen.

    Tenes said most of the holiday festivities already had been canceled because of COVID-19 but hot meals were the one item on the agenda they wouldn’t miss.

    “(Closing the kitchen) was an added blow to us after having to cancel our annual plans of welcoming guests in from the cold to enjoy a hot Christmas meal and friendly companionship,” said Chef Reynolds Stewart, food service manager at CityTeam.

    After they were told of a COVID-19 infection at the start of the week, Tenes said right away she thought to call a friend who handles marketing and logistics for a network of local food trucks.

    “I called Ryan Sebastian from Moveable Feasts yesterday (Dec. 22) and asked him if he could mobilize very quickly to get the meals,” she said. “So everybody’s scrambling really quick because it’s just like, we didn’t expect this honestly.”

    Sebastian, who founded San Jose-based Moveable Feast, now known as Moveable, said he had never participated in a CityTeam Christmas Day dinner before but was excited when Tenes reached out.

    “She asked if we can help out — ‘We don’t have a lot of time. We’ve got to make hundreds of meals’ — and I said sure, let’s do it,” Sebastian said.

    Moveable immediately started working with local food trucks and finalizing meal items, as well as helping to raise money for the meals.

    Instead of the usual cost of $2 it costs CityTeam to prepare a Christmas Day meal, the price now is $12 because workers are being paid for their service, as opposed to the men’s shelter residents preparing the food as part of their in-house duties.

    CityTeam, in partnership with the food trucks, plans on preparing at least 300 meals. To make it happen, CityTeam is collecting donations.

    “The rainbow about it is what we’re able to give small businesses that are struggling as well, these small-business truck owners, they’re going to make money that day,” she said.

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    Sebastian said he is still finalizing who will be serving and what kind of food will be made available for homeless residents.

    “At first we didn’t know if trucks would be available. We were like, ‘Well, are they going to be home with their families to celebrate Christmas?’” he said. “But we had plenty of folks who wanted to participate and be part of this Christmas meal.”

    The food trucks will make drops in front of CityTeam’s facility, and volunteers and workers will place food on tables to avoid direct contact.

    Tenes said it was heartbreaking to not be able to welcome residents into the kitchen this year but those without homes won’t be the only ones separated from family this holiday season.

    “It’s the one time some are in a warm, family environment and we usually have lots of volunteers and we have Santa come by. And we did karaoke last year,” she said. “Everybody takes it for granted when they’re with their families. This year it will be different though for everybody.”

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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