Until We End Homelessness, I’ll Keep Feeding San Diegans in Need

Article in San Diego Times by Julie Darling

As a native San Diegan, born and raised in a city I adore, I’ve been dismayed to see more and more people down on their luck, living on our city’s streets and in painfully inadequate shelters. As a community, we need to do more for the least among us, and we can. People with good intentions can debate the best way to “solve the problem of homelessness,” but the reality is true long-term solutions are needed to get human beings off the streets and into permanent homes. Until this happens, though, it’s just as important to keep treating them as the humans they are.

Opinion LogoMy family has always believed in giving back. My mother was in the Junior League of San Diego, and I joined its ranks in 1980. I was also a member of San Diego Rotary for many years. Then, as a professional chef, I saw a need in the community to feed San Diego’s homeless fresh and nutritious meals that were also delicious. I’m still a chef with my own catering company, Just Call Us Catering, but in 2005, with the help of generous friends and clients who donated food and their time, I began preparing dinners for the homeless at various holidays. That led to the founding of Just Call Us Volunteers in 2006.

Just Call Us Volunteers has grown into an organization of volunteers who serve at various local facilities and programs year-round—10 to 15 volunteers per day, swelling to 50 for holidays and special events. Through our partnership with the Alpha Project and Veterans Village of San Diego, we organize volunteers to prepare and serve healthy holiday meals, twice-monthly Soup and Salad Sundays, and other homemade meals to the homeless at the San Diego City and Veterans Winter Shelters and other locations throughout the year including Rachel’s Women’s Shelter, The Monarch School, and San Diego Center for Children. Just Call Us Volunteers also proudly serves the last meal at Stand Down San Diego each year. I consider it a privilege. I see the people we serve as our honored guests, and impress this upon all our volunteers.

In the past decade, Just Call Us Volunteers has served 26,000 meals to 48,000 people, amassing 35,000 volunteer hours. But what makes us unique is that dozens of top local chefs give generously of their precious free time to help us prep and cook these meals alongside community volunteers, many of whom have no food service experience.

Julie Darling
Julie Darling
Among these generous chefs are Alex Carballo (Moto Deli), Chuck Samuelson (Kitchens for Good), Amy Dibiase (Tidal), Sara Polczynski (Sabor Imports), Hanis Cavin (Carnitas’ Snack Shack), Joe Burns (Waters Catering and Fine Foods), Dan England (Urban Solace), Dawn Parks (The Wild Thyme Catering Company), Karen Blair (Small Bar), Andrew Halverson (Moto Deli), Ryan Studebaker (MIHO), Lhasa Landry (Eco Catering), Brandon Brooks (Rough Draft Brewing Company), and Leah Delyte (E.A.T. Marketplace). We also enjoy the generous support of donors like Specialty Produce, Catalina Offshore Products, Sprouts Farmers Market and Cupcakes Squared.

I don’t name these kind folks to pat myself on the back. I name them to recognize the fact that these professional chefs spend all their time sweating over hot ranges in their kitchens and then, instead of going home and cracking a cold one, give us some of their precious free time to come and sweat over the ranges in my kitchen instead. Their only reward is knowing they are helping us to help people in the most direct way possible.

I’m sad that we are still serving ten years later, and that there is more need for us than ever before. By now, I would have wished for us to find a way to move people off the streets forever. What Just Call Us Volunteers does, and all the other relief organizations do, although important, is not enough. That’s why I am committed to finding more permanent solutions. Just Call Us Volunteers has big plans that will require us to continue receiving more wonderful support from the community that has already been so generous.

To celebrate our tenth anniversary, and raise funds for our future initiatives, we’re throwing a Wacky Wingding on Saturday, Sept. 17. A party for families and adults alike, it will feature an exhilarating combination of delicious catered food by top San Diego chefs and the fun and pageantry of the modern circus—all in the spectacular setting of the Francis Parker upper school campus.

The Wacky Wingding will begin at 4 p.m. for families with children of all ages, providing strolling and staged entertainment like aerial acrobats, stilt-walkers, and clowns. At about 7 p.m., the evening will evolve into a party more geared for adults, with intriguing circus-themed acrobatic and dance performances, burlesque, fire-twirling, and more. A delicious selection of bites and tastes prepared by local chefs accompanies the entertainment all day and evening long. There’ll also be circus-themed offerings of all kinds.

By attending, you can help us pay tribute to ten years of helping San Diego’s most vulnerable population, while launching Just Call Us Volunteers into its next decade of growth and service. Details (including the long list of participating chefs and entertainers) and tickets are at www.justcallusvolunteers.org or at EventBrite. If you can’t attend, please consider making a donation. We’re also always looking for volunteers to help prep, cook and serve our meals to our honored guests. It is a fun and uplifting experience, I promise you.

I’ll continue to keep working to end homelessness in our city. But until then, I and my amazing volunteers and friends will keep doing what we know how to do best—showing our love through food.