A program that provides weekly hot meals for needy individuals and families marked its 30th anniversary Tuesday night by dishing up its millionth plateful.
Sharing God's Bounty served its first meal at St. Philomene Church in the Arden Arcade area in January 1983, six months before the better-known Loaves & Fishes began serving meals in downtown Sacramento.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Mize, a co-founder of Sharing God's Bounty, credited Loaves & Fishes founders Chris and Dan Delany with helping inspire the St. Philomene meal ministry. Parishioners met for a prayer session in December 1982 and talked about how to meet community needs in the coming year. Some suggested providing meals but wondered how to go about it.
"Dan said, 'Just do it,' " Mize recalled.
Three women Jeannie Bastian, Jackie Lane and Evelyn Trulock said they could cook. Although he wasn't a cook, Mize said, "I did like to eat, and I am a pretty good organizer."
The first meal drew 40 guests, with 65 volunteers on hand to serve them. The number of diners has increased with 300 to 400 coming early in the month and 600 to 700 at the end of the month, when people often run out of money.
Guests are welcome to all they can eat, Mize said. They also can take home a grocery bag of nonperishable food items, and Sharing God's Bounty offers a calendar of other meal services in the area.
The program, funded by donations, aims to provide encouragement as well as nourishment.
"We say, 'Every Tuesday evening we serve dignity, and along with dignity we serve a hot meal,' " Mize said.
Although some people refer to the program as a "soup kitchen," he said, "We've never served soup. If you want soup, you have to go somewhere else."
With St. Philomene's gym serving as the dining room, Sharing God's Bounty attracts a number of families, Mize said, noting that efforts are made to create a homelike atmosphere.
Tuesday's menu featured macaroni and cheese with ham, green salad, peaches, bread, donated desserts, milk, coffee and apple juice.
Bastian, the only survivor among the original three cooks, had the honor of serving the millionth meal to Virginia "Binkey" Daley, who operates a home for adults with disabilities. Daley has been bringing residents to the Tuesday night meal for 10 years.
After coming a couple of times, she told volunteers she didn't want to wear out her welcome.
"But they said their feelings would be hurt if we didn't come again," she said, adding that the meal provides an important socialization opportunity for her residents.
The volunteer corps has changed over the years. Originally, Bastian, whose background is in food service and nutrition, said she, Lane and Trulock did all the cooking. Five cooking teams now rotate the weekly duties.
"Cooking teams are something I learned about from Loaves & Fishes," she said, noting that she worked with the meal program there as well.
Sixty percent to 80 percent of those serving each week are high school students, many of them fulfilling requirements for service projects, Mize said. Most come from area Catholic high schools St. Francis, Jesuit and Christian Brothers as well as Mira Loma High School.
Crystal Cruz, a senior at Rio Americano High School, has been volunteering for six years and coordinates volunteer work assignments.
"I like meeting new people and interacting with them," she said, "knowing that I can make them smile if they've been having a bad day."