Resident Feature

Northgate neighbors feed the homeless

Since 2014 a handful of Northgate neighbors and fellow St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church members have been feeding the homeless right here in Walnut Creek. 

It started in 2009 when Dave Stewart of Hillside Covenant Church began bringing pizzas to Civic Park for the homeless. Pizzas were offered by Rocco’s Ristorante at a deep discount. The food distribution moved to Trinity Center sometime later, and Dave reached out to Dennis Ashlock to ask if St. Matthew’s would consider helping. 

Dennis then recruited some friends at St. Matthew’s, including Terry and Bob Johnston. “We moved up from pizza to Costco lasagnas, heating them up at Hillside and taking them to Trinity,” says Terry. Then in 2015 St. Matthew’s took over the weekly food prep, headed by Bob Johnston. Every Monday since then a crew prepares and delivers food to Trinity. It has grown to a volunteer group of 12 or more, including head cook Deborah Harris, preparing 60 meals. Prior to COVID, the volunteers would also serve the meals and enjoy getting to know the people they served. They hope to be able to resume serving and re-establishing those relationships soon. As Bob says, “We learned early on that it’s not our job to fix people. We are there to feed them, to care for them, to show them respect.” And some strong relationships have formed because of that. Terry reflects on one of her favorite stories, “One of the members invited us and a few of her fellow Trinity friends to her JFK graduation ceremony at the Lesher Theater. She graduated with honors while living out of her car parked next to the WC Police Station because she feared for her safety from her ex-husband. We attended her graduation and then had a nice party on one of our Monday Lunches at Trinity Center for all her Trinity Friends. She was planning on going on to get her masters in counseling. Definitely one of my favorite stories.” 

In 2021 Bob handed over the leadership of the program to a “Trifecta Group,” Cathy Farrar, Susanne Hearn and Erick Onishi, “a group of terrific humanitarians.” He describes their mission as a three-legged stool: 1. Provide food for our neighbors, 2. Provide an opportunity for people to show their love for others, 3. Form strong relationships with others in their church. 

As the program grew, St. Matthew’s volunteers have become certified by the county with 9 food handler certificates and 3 for food safety, and have a received a permit from the county. The menu has evolved to include dishes like Chicken Divan, Enchilada Casserole, and Beef Stroganoff. And another dedicated volunteer, Don Raymond, brings ice cream novelties each week for dessert. The church provides the funding, and volunteers provide all the labor. Bob and Terry are still involved as volunteers as are Dennis and Lynn Ashlock. 

Bob reflects on the homeless situation, “The city of Walnut Creek is way ahead of other communities in taking care of the homeless. “Trinity Center was renovated before the pandemic and offers food, clothes, computer access, showers and many other resources, and since 2016 the Armory near Civic Park has been open on cold winter nights as a place to sleep. 

If interested in getting involved with the Monday Trinity Crew, please contact St. Matthew’s Church. Non-church members also welcome.

By Kara Navolio, Resident since 1991