The aroma of tamales, beans and Spanish rice filled the serving room at Haven for Hope late Wednesday afternoon as staff and volunteers with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul San Antonio, a Catholic nonprofit, prepared to feed hundreds of hungry individuals at the Westside shelter.
The society partners with Haven for Hope to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to about 1,500 people every day. The society organized a pre-Christmas Eve dinner with a small, special group of volunteer servers to highlight its mission, which attracts little attention most of the year.
A handful of area elected officials and political candidates helped serve dinner. City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5); Judge Toni Arteaga; John Lujan, candidate for Texas House District 118; Helen Madla, candidate for Texas Senate District 19; Linda Molina, judicial candidate for County Court-at-Law No. 5; and Gabe Quintanilla, judicial candidate for 408th District Court were among the notable volunteers Wednesday.
This was the first time the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has invited public figures to work as volunteer servers at the Haven for Hope, but event organizers aim to make the event a holiday perennial. More than 500 homeless individuals enjoyed the holiday dinner and VIP service.
Prior to the serving of food, Society President Frank Kiolbassa thanked the volunteers for their participation, adding that the event was a form of spiritual development.
“If we don’t develop spiritually, we can’t provide hope and compassion,” he said.
Having elected officials and candidates volunteer for even a couple of hours sensitizes them to community needs, Kiolbassa said.
“This is to show (officials) what they do legislatively, in social justice, makes a difference,” Kiolbassa said. “And because Society of St. Vincent de Paul is affected by their decisions, we want (officials) to know that, whatever they need, we’ve got their back.”
The society has been preparing food at Haven for Hope in a small, converted laundry room since 2009. Backed by individual donations and a Bexar County grant, the nonprofit will open a bigger, better equipped kitchen on campus in late January or early February.
Haven for Hope is in Gonzales’ district. The Haven for Hope has transformed the lives of thousands of people over the five years it has been in operation, she said.
“They cover a lot of ground here in my district,” Gonzales said. “Knowing there’s a wonderful organization like Haven for Hope, and Society of St. Vincent de Paul feeding people everyday in a way that’s healthy, and providing an environment that’s friendly and safe — that’s encouraging. Having other elected leaders here, I think, is eye-opening for some of them who’ve never been here, but they recognize tremendous need in the community and how many people are here today.”
The help offered by the Society and by Haven for Hope is not lost on individuals like Newell Russ, who works in Haven for Hope’s bay area. Russ appreciated the volunteers who sang Christmas carols and more holiday music played in the courtyard. He is grateful for every meal and service.
“It’s all a very good thing,” he said.
*Top Image: State Sen. Carlos Uresti serves a Christmas dinner meal to a homeless diner at the Haven for Hope. Photo by Lea Thompson.