PITTSBURG -- Most mornings about 11 a.m., Kaysdria Johnson and her young family of four drive from their Antioch apartment to the Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa dining room in Pittsburg to get a hot lunch and pick up free groceries.
They eat fast, so they can drop off 4-year-old daughter Za'Niya Anderson at her preschool by noon.
"When it comes to the end of the month and we barely have any food, it really helps a lot," said Johnson, 21. "We're making it. But this year it helps out a whole lot."
This dining room, and four others the nonprofit operates, are part of the Share the Spirit campaign, which raises money each holiday season for charities.
On a recent Wednesday, Johnson, daughter Za'Niya, husband Jerome Anderson, 22, and 1-year-old daughter Ja'Mara Anderson ate egg casserole, fruit salad and dessert along with a few dozen other people -- some of them homeless, some "working poor," some unemployed. Her family has leaned on Loaves and Fishes for a year, particularly over the past month, after cuts to the federal food stamp program took $36 a month from their allowance.
"It's been hard," said Johnson, who recently started a job-training program in Concord as her husband began temp work in a warehouse. "Instead of spending the money, we come here."
Loaves and Fishes expects to feed about 180,000 people this fiscal year, with 50 percent of them older than 50 and 16 percent younger than 18. Numbers are starting to flatten, which has been encouraging, said Joleen Lafayette, Loaves and Fishes' development director.
"I think more people are finding jobs. More people are heading back to work," she said.
In addition to serving meals and handing out more than 60 tons of groceries annually, the dining rooms provide other services, like medical screenings and shelter assistance.
"We're trying to do more for our clients since we have them here for an hour," Lafayette said.
Still, since its July 2010 opening, the Pittsburg facility on Simpson Court -- which shares a building with St. Vincent de Paul -- has served between 150 and 240 people each day. Employees cook about 1,200 meals a day in the Pittsburg Catering Kitchen, which then disperses the food to dining rooms in Pittsburg, Antioch, Bay Point, Oakley and Martinez.
This holiday season, Loaves and Fishes received a $3,000 grant from the Share the Spirit campaign to buy $10 Safeway gift cards to pass out to clients so they can purchase turkeys and other food.
As Johnson's family ate their meal on the recent Wednesday, Michael Martinez perused the baked goods to find items small enough to hide in bushes.
Homeless for four years, the 52-year-old has no refrigerator or other food storage in his encampment behind an abandoned Pittsburg restaurant.
"This is my dinner, lunch and breakfast," said Martinez, holding a plastic bag filled with a sandwich, doughnuts, tortillas and sponge cake.
On the cold day, he also uses the Loaves and Fishes dining room to stay warm.
He spent the freezing night before in what the Pittsburg homeless call the "Field of Dreams," the Delta de Anza Regional Trail bike route which becomes a makeshift homeless hotel at night, Martinez said.
As they leave Loaves and Fishes for the day, Johnson and her family pack up bags containing a sandwich, enchiladas, cupcakes, chips and Twinkies, along with complimentary socks. They often get their milk and bread from the dining room.
Four-year-old Za'Niya doesn't eat much, as she gets a free lunch at preschool. But she points to vanilla cupcakes when asked what her favorite Loaves and Fishes food is.
Her mom appreciates the help.
"There's people who barely have anything and can't expect a meal every day," she said.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.