Even though the group was driven from its temporary site, People’s Kitchen will continue to do what it does best: get warm food to those without.
For 21 years, seven days a week, the Grover Beach-based volunteer group has coordinated the delivery of noontime meals to the food-challenged members of the South San Luis Obispo County community. The food is cooked off-site by one of many serving teams and brought to where the food is served. Over the years, the kitchen has been able to operate at fixed sites—some more permanent than others—but has recently been grappling with finding a new location. For five years the kitchen operated out of Shouts of Grace Church in Arroyo Grande until the church relocated.
As People’s Kitchen searched for a new home, San Luis Obispo County offered up a temporary space behind the old courthouse in Grover Beach, next to the current County Drug and Alcohol Services. The kitchen obtained a temporary use permit and applied for a more permanent permit that would allow use of the space until a new spot was found. But after neighborhood residents banded together to form the Longbranch Neighborhood Coalition, and vocally pressed Grover Beach City Hall to kick the kitchen out of the location because its presence allegedly led to increased incidents and safety risks, the People’s Kitchen has been left on the curb.
The City Council denied the conditional use permit on Oct. 7, leaving the kitchen with use of the site until Oct. 22. So just a week before Thanksgiving, the kitchen served its last meal there, packed up, and went mobile.
President of People’s Kitchen, Betsy Ehrler, said that for now they’re continuing to prepare food and get it out without a fixed location. That allows them to get food to people, but lacks the presence of a stable and consistent social environment that comes part and parcel with the meal.
“We’re going to fill up our people as much as we can with nice hot food, but it’s certainly not the gathering and the sharing and the taking care of them and doing what we used to,” Ehrler told New Times.
The kitchen is working out details for a possible warehouse location. Ehrler said they’re hoping to get applications turned in and get the ball rolling in early 2014. Until then, the kitchen has been delivering assembled meals at two undisclosed locations in the community, stopping in and handing the food out, and leaving before they violate any public assembly laws. Whatever is left is brought to a church in Oceano. It’s not ideal, Ehrler said, but it’s working for now.
As for Thanksgiving, the group that’s prided itself on being a destination for people to share a warm holiday meal will for the first time have to hand out the meals in boxes rather than placing them along a table.
Looking for a warm meal and some Thanksgiving tradition? Find it on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at the Pismo Beach Vets Hall at 680 Bello St., from 1 to 6 p.m. Deliveries can be arranged by calling 305-0672 or 704-2188 between noon and 5 p.m. Phones will only be on during those times.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay